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Montana Tribes To Feds: Help Our Community Fight Meth Addiction

By Kelly Burch 06/01/18

Addiction has undermined the infrastructure of the reservation, says one tribal board executive.

pictures of lives lost to addiction and violence on the Ford Peck Reservation
Photo via YouTube

Native American tribes in Montana are asking the federal government to help them confront methamphetamine addiction in their communities, which they say is causing health consequences and putting many children in foster care. 

Members of the tribal executive board for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes met with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on May 20 in Poplar, Montana to ask for assistance in confronting addiction on the Hi-Line reservation, according to The Billings Gazette.

“We have a massive drug problem in that we have a shortage of law enforcement, not only in our department, but in the county’s department. It’s pretty much overtaken us,” said Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure. “We have 107 kids in foster care right now, and the majority of that is because of drug problems and meth mainly. We had, last count, nine infants born addicted to meth. It’s tough to swallow when you see babies in that situation and they didn’t ask to be in that situation and they’re suffering.”

Azure pointed out that addiction has undermined the infrastructure of the reservation, since many jobs are left empty for years because no applicants can pass a drug test. 

Zinke, who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs as Interior Secretary, said that one way to break that cycle is to focus on treatment for mothers and grandmothers, who can then focus on raising the next generation so that they are not as heavily impacted by drugs. 

“The fabric of the tribe is moms and grandmas. And when moms and grandmas are addicted, then the whole fabric of the tribe begins to rip,” Zinke said. “Then kids get transferred over to uncles and different relatives, and that’s a new set of challenges. We think that focusing on moms and grandmas on rehabilitation in a community is a priority, and it won’t solve the problem, but I think it’s the best solution up front.”

Azure suggested opening a drug treatment center, while another member thought that providing housing for children whose families were impacted by addiction would help address the issue. 

“To me, I think we need to help our children," said Marva Chapman-Firemoon, a tribal board member. "That would be my first priority, maybe for us to get a dormitory. And I always say that the federal government took our kids off the reservation, took them to boarding schools and all that, but now we want a boarding school, or a dormitory, either one. I think that would be helpful because it would keep our children safe while we worked on the other ones.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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