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Tribal Council call to arms to battle substance abuse on the Flathead Indian Reservation

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

Director of Tribal Services, Clayton Matt informs folks at the substance abuse meeting that the Tribal Council considers substance abuse a priority problem on the Flathead Indian Reservation that has to be remedied. (B.L. Azure photo) Director of Tribal Services, Clayton Matt informs folks at the substance abuse meeting that the Tribal Council considers substance abuse a priority problem on the Flathead Indian Reservation that has to be remedied. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — Call it a line in the sand, a call to arms, enough is enough, I can’t take this anymore, or we are tired of burying our young. Those were some of the sentiments that came from the tongues of the more than 50 folks who gathered in the Lefthand Conference Room last week seeking answers and solutions for perplexing alcohol and drugs problem on the Flathead Indian Reservation. In November the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes governing body passed as resolution aimed at resolving the substance abuse issue.

“The discussion about this began in the fall with (then) Chairman Joe Durglo,” said Jamie Hamel, CSKT policy analyst.

Most of the folks there represented various departments within the CSKT workforce. There was also a large contingent of people from the general tribal population on hand to be part of the discussion on how to curb the alcohol and drug problem on the reservation. Many of them represented ad hoc groups that have been dealing with the issue and other social problems on the reservation.

The Tribal Council in November issued the call to arms with the passage of Resolution No. 14-036, that, in part, states: “WHEREAS, the Tribes have developed and funded programs that are overwhelmed with the impacts of substance abuse and those impacts on our services is devastating, and, WHEREAS, the impacts of substance abuse can negatively affect families, tribal lands and resources, tribal identity, and limited program funds and services, and, … WHEREAS, because of the devastating effects and consequences of substance abuse on our people and resources, we must take strong and decisive measures to combat and eliminate these negative effects of substance abuse on the Flathead Indian Reservation. BE IT RESOLVE by the Tribal Council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to declare it is the Tribes’ position to combat and eliminate substance abuse and its negative impacts on the Flathead Indian Reservation.”

Jonathon Denton of the Rez Hope group says the group wants to be a part of the effort to address the substance abuse issue among the tribal population. (B.L. Azure photo) Jonathon Denton of the Rez Hope group says the group wants to be a part of the effort to address the substance abuse issue among the tribal population. (B.L. Azure photo)

The talk has been talked, now it’s time for action.

“Drugs affect a lot of families, Hamel said. “There has been enough talk now let’s do something.”

Hamel said the Tribal Council resolution wants groups and the tribal programs to get together and work on the issue. “The new Tribal Council and the administration support this,” she said. “It’ll take a lot of resources to make this happen. We have to develop a strategic plan to make this happen.”

“The Tribal Council wants to meet with you,” said Tribal Services Director Clayton Matt. “What we do today will be part of the discussion with them.”

“This is my highest priority,” said Tribal Council Mission District Representative Patty Stevens.

Jonathon Denton of the Rez Hope Talking Circle said he and the group are fed up with the problems created by drugs and alcohol especially the related violence.

Denton said the reservation needs: a long-term stay cultural-based behavioral modification center; to stop drugs from coming in; drug and alcohol awareness training/education for youth; and, set up a 24/7 hotline. “We’d like to see these happen,” Denton said.

Compassion should be a part of the effort to curb or eliminate substance abuse.

“Drugs and alcohol addiction is a disease, it’s not about a lack of will power,” said Judy Gobert. “Let’s not criminalize our people.”

More boots on the ground are needed to adequately deal with the problem.

More than 50 people attended the substance abuse meeting last week in Pablo. There were numerous breakout sessions — like this one — for brainstorming on the issue of substance abuse. (B.L. Azure photo) More than 50 people attended the substance abuse meeting last week in Pablo. There were numerous breakout sessions — like this one — for brainstorming on the issue of substance abuse. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We need more funds for overtime, to staff the jail, to set up a tip line,” said CSKT Police Chief Craige Couture. “People will call you (social programs) before they call the police.”

It’s time to go after doctors that are overprescribing narcotics for patients.

“We need to look at what we can do immediately. We need to start out with doctors who over prescribe narcotics. We have to some control over doctors that are over prescribing,” said Tribal Health and Human Services Director Kevin Howlett, adding that Tribal Health in the past few years has exceeded its annual threshold of narcotic drugs issued at its pharmacies. “We don’t want to be part of the problem. I want my staff to participate in this group wherever they feel they can be part of the solution.”

The group split up into numerous breakout groups to ferret out ideas on substance abuse.

Matt said he would take the information garnered from the meeting and present it to the Tribal Council. Then the assault on substance abuse will start to be mapped out in upcoming meetings.

“The Tribal Council wants action on this,” Hamel said.

“This is a good first step to address the most pressing issue of our time. Drug abuse on the reservation is by far the single biggest threat to our security as Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people,” Howlett said after the meeting. “It is a huge expense in money and people. It is an issue of maximum concern but resources to combat it are scarce. It will take a lot of inter-department collaboration and government support from the Feds including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Indian Health Service and Department of Justice as well as state and tribal agencies to have a chance at defeating this problem.”

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