BILLINGS, Mont. – When Rear Admiral Doctor Eric Broderick, the acting administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, presented the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council with two checks totaling $6.3 million in November it was a testimony on how the tribes from that area are taking the initiative in securing their own funds to suit their respective tribes’ specific needs. The MT-WY TLC is represented by 10 tribes in the two states.
The first $1.5 million check was to continue funding the Planting Seeds of Hope suicide prevention program over the next three years. The second $4.8 million check is to fund for the next five years of a substance abuse program called the Rocky Mountain Tribal Wellness Initiative that is co-sponsored through the Strategic Prevention Framework State/Tribal Incentive Grant.
“And while it sounds like a lot of money, it’s not a lot of money relative to the need. These tribes represent about 120,000 people,” Broderick said after a ceremony in which he was given a blanket as a token of acceptance.
“This money represents some very challenging situations, but I’m very comfortable in knowing that the resources are going to where they need to go, and that the tribes are quite capable of administering the money in a way that will do good things for their people.”
The money for both checks will basically be allotted to all the individual tribes represented by the MT-WY TLC.
“As a tribal leader, what this represents to me is that we’re going beyond that paternalism of the BIA and IHS looking after our needs and that we’re very capable of doing it ourselves,” Assiniboine and Sioux Fort Peck Indian Reservation representative Tommy Christian said. “Who would know where this money needed to go other than us? We can deal with our own issues, but we just need that support. What Dr. Broderick provides is that opportunity to receive that support from the federal government that is their trust responsibility to Indian people under treaties to provide that.”
No stranger to Indian country, Broderick has focused his extensive 34-year career on addressing the health needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. He has personally worked with the northern Montana Rocky Boy Reservation and remains close to the people there.
Broderick was impressed at the way the MT-WY TLC worked together to surpass the IHS and BIA bureaucracies in an effort to get grant money and gain more sovereignty in order to help themselves in the way they thought fit according to specific tribal needs.
He also explained that obtaining the $6.3 million was hardly a given, but competed for by every state. The MT-WY TLC and SPF-SIG explained a detailed five-year plan in which they would first collect data to assess individual reservation problems before developing a comprehensive strategic plan for each.
Project Director Don Wetzel Jr. said the PSOH suicide prevention program has been working hard to help raise awareness of the suicide problem on reservations in that tribes can better prevent them from happening. Money is dispersed in segments only after certain objectives and tasks have been completed.
Broderick said it has been only in the last several years that American Indians have latched onto the idea that they could be independent of the BIA and IHS – non-granting bureaucracies – to obtain government trust money where they felt it would be needed most.
Christian said this is a coordinated effort to help Natives realize the importance of pursuing a healthy lifestyle while identifying with their unique tribal culture and its value systems. He theorized this could help set a trend in Indian country in regards to how the government responds to trust responsibility, and how tribal needs can be met locally as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.
“As well as going beyond the paternalism, this lets people know that we are taking a personal involvement, and also lets the people involved in the bureaucracy from the president on down that we are capable of handling our own affairs and that yes, we can take control of our lives. And we’re doing that.”