Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dr. Alden Big Man Jr.

Terrifying trade-off

Low point in proud history of Crow people attributed to meth invasion
The basketball courts near the Crow tribal administration building sit vacant where, over the years, epic battles occurred between hundreds of basketball players and past standouts such as Jonathon Takes Enemy, Elvis Old Bull and Tom Yarlott. The basketball goals have long been removed, with no visible attempts over the last several years made to replace them for the future generations of stars to hone their skills. 
 
Crow Tribal CEO Paul Little Light lights up and remembers his days of playing on these courts, and ponders the question, why? 
 
“Why have they gone silent, especially at a time when the game has become so popular in Indian Country?” he asks. 
 
He attributes the cause to vandalism, mostly due to the spike in drug abuse, especially “meth,” shedding light on the current problem that has afflicted many reservations in the West. 
 
“I think the problem is that parents are apprehensive about letting their children come play ball at the courts,” Little Light said. “We have a problem, and we need to address this issue now,” he continued, while looking out his window at the basketball courts. 
 
The bigger question, he continued, is “how has the reservation ended up at such a low point in the proud history of this tribe?” 
 
Meth creeps into reservations
 
Jesus Martin Sagaste-Cruz, a member of a Mexican drug cartel dealing methamphetamine, read an article in a Denver Newspaper about a white liquor store owner who made a fortune selling alcohol to Sioux tribal members in Nebraska. The owner purposely targeted Indians by selling alcohol just outside the reservation line. His business quickly boomed, with profits skyrocketing as tribal members began purchasing alcohol regularly from his store. 
 
Sagaste-Cruz copied the idea for his meth operation, targeting members on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. With a little research, Sagaste-Cruz ascertained the remoteness of reservations, the limited police personnel on hand, and understood the abyss of jurisdictional dysfunction between tribal, federal and state agencies. 
 
He initiated his plan by giving away free, highly pure samples to tribal members, gently nudging them into an addiction to meth. They, in turn, gave free samples to friends and family, building a large customer base. Once his dealers were in place, he began the sale and distribution of his product, which quickly consumed the reservation, creating a lucrative illegal business. 
 
This new drug invaded many homes, most never experiencing this type addiction before. The abuse of alcohol, which was substantial, now seemed minimal compared to meth. Sagaste-Cruz created a new type of “terror” on the Wind River Reservation, triggering an epidemic that has since spilled onto other reservations across the nation, like the Crow.
 
Meth slowly made its way into the U.S. in the 1990s, and today the valued market is estimated to be between $3 and $8 billion annually. In the United States, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported about 1.2 million people use meth in this country, while in Indian Country, 74 percent of BIA enforcement agencies reported meth as the greatest drug threat. In the same report, FBI officers serving Indian Country reported that 40-50 percent of violent crimes can be attributed to meth. 
 
Suffering the consequences
 
 “White powder,” as it is referred to in the Crow language, has been declared Public Enemy No. 1 in Big Horn County, which encompasses most of the Crow Reservation. The highly addictive drug also is commonly known as “ice,” “crystal,” “crank” or “meth,” and has 435 street names, according to National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). 
 
Incidents involving meth or other highly addictive drugs on the reservation have increased considerably, in some cases doubling or tripling. In Big Horn County, 25 percent of felony-related cases involve meth. In the Crow tribal court system, more than 3,000 cases annually flow through the dockets, with more than half involving illegal drugs.
 
In a summit held March of 2016, Crow tribal leaders believed community members were unaware how large the impact of meth was on the reservation. According to an article in the Big Horn County News that month, Sen. Shawn Real Bird of the Reno District reported about four infants born each month into the tribe had signs of the drug in their system.
 
The problem is not an isolated issue on the Crow Reservation, but affects other tribes as well. In 2015, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in North Dakota, reported 80 percent of babies born on tribal homelands showed signs of drugs like meth, opiates and heroin in their systems as stated in an article in the “Last Real Indians.” 
 
Data is limited for the long term effects of meth abuse on the Crow Reservation, but the physical effects include rapid weight loss and unusual jerking movements. Some become delusional, picking at bugs on their skin that don’t exist, and violent behavior is not uncommon, with extreme abusers isolating themselves from others. 
 
The “terror” aspect of the drug is severe addiction, and results in users stopping at nothing to find meth. The abuse has led to an increase in reports of break-ins and theft over the last several years in Crow Country. 
Other reservations, like the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota – the center of a recent oil boom – has seen a spike in human trafficking cases. Some reports suggest that younger family members, especially females, were sold for sex in exchange for drugs.
 
Several Montana Task Forces have been targeting drug rings in southeast Montana, including those on the Crow Reservation. In October 2016, one raid included a helicopter along with tribal and federal agencies, and resulted in several people being charged with the possession and sale of meth. 
 
Commitment vacuum
 
On the reservation, several attempts over the last decade to create drug task forces have failed, mainly losing steam because of jurisdictional or legislative issues, and because tribal leaders elected to put resources in the fight against meth into other departments. The lack of commitment for the task forces has contributed to the increasing problem of meth abuse on the reservation. 
 
Juxtaposed with the failed task forces, high-profile cases on the Crow Reservation involving drugs have occurred. These cases include the innocent couple who were killed in Pryor, and a young woman who was beaten, burned and left for dead on the eastern part of the reservation. Incidents such as these – which were unheard of before meth – have increased, with little hope in sight as federal dollars become harder to obtain with budget cuts. 
 
Meth labs, which have begun to appear on the reservation, have made homes uninhabitable because of the potent chemicals used to cook the drug. Violent behaviors and vandalism to property by users have also resulted in homes being destroyed in the midst of a severe housing shortage. Annual budgets for housing programs on reservations have no money to clean the homes, so many are boarded up, and continue to deteriorate. 
 
In 2016, during an executive debate with then Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and current Chairman A.J. Not Afraid, the question of how to deal with the meth problem on the reservation was asked. Not Afraid believed an increase of law enforcement was needed, while Old Coyote remained firm in his belief the “Old Ways” should be taught again.
 
Not Afraid reiterated his point that the tribe lacked adequate staff to protect the entire reservation from drugs, especially “meth.” Through his belief in more staffing, Not Afraid likely tipped the scale in his favor, ousting Old Coyote in the 2016 election. 
 
The aggressive, proactive approach in the “War against Meth” seems to be the logical next step to this issue. Some tribes like the Standing Rock Sioux, went as far as banishing drug dealers from their tribe. However, legal issues can put a halt to this idea. 
 
Long-term treatment, or traditional healing, have been brought up by other tribes as well. However, with limited funding, many of the ideas put forth will not progress until more money is spent in the war on meth.
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