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Fighting 'a new smallpox'

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - With drums and singing from Gathering of Nations Powwow in the distance, the National Congress of American Indians, in conjunction with other federal and Native organizations, launched an anti-methamphetamine print and radio campaign to specifically target American Indian and Native Alaskan audiences.

"What's one of the culprits in hitting that health and making us go down south? That is the use of drugs, alcoholism and other things,'' NCAI President Joe Garcia said. ''When we assess which is the most devastational drug there is, it's methamphetamine. We've got to do something more than just talk about it. We've got to engage and create a vehicle by which we can move forward. The end result is this, but it took a lot of work, and it took a lot of bodies, took a lot of minds, took a lot of resources to get to where we are. NCAI is just one partner.''

Garcia said the campaign began nearly three years ago with a press conference on Native initiatives targeted toward the youth. The new ad campaign is a culmination of this work and is a collaborative effort between organizations such as NCAI and the Department of the Interior, BIA, Association of American Indian Physicians, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and state and local agencies.

The campaign features Native youth in different activities such as fishing, drum-making, beadwork and ''rez ball,'' using the common phrase: ''There are lots of cool things about being Native. Meth isn't one of them.''

''I think the campaign reflects the needs, the look and feel of the Native community,'' said Alina Diaz, associate director of Multicultural Content Development for the Partnership. ''When a teen sees one of these posters, they feel that could be themselves in that situation. They really identify themselves with the campaign. Our hope is that by looking at these ads and by listening to the radio spots, they think about it twice, and they consider their future and their other activities that they can do besides doing drugs and meth.''

One of the ad campaign's partners was Alternative Marketing Solutions, a Native-owned marketing agency based in Phoenix. Upon completion, focus-group testing for the campaign included Native communities in Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota, with help from the Native Wellness Institute.

''We are targeting that group which is also targeted by methamphetamines - the students, the youth,'' said outgoing Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Carl Artman. ''We have a large network of schools across the nation - 184 schools in 23 states and 63 reservations. We're going to be making sure that these posters are distributed at schools so that the students there can not only see the positive messages being portrayed here and about being Native American.

''Hopefully, that message will resonate with them, and they will go out and take that message back to their home, their families, their siblings, their parents and the rest of the community so they can have that community-wide dialogue about the impact of meth and how that's not a Native American trait. They have to work together as a community to stop that.''

Statistically, American Indians are more affected by methamphetamine use than any other American community, causing a vast increase in domestic violence, child neglect and other human- and property-related crimes. In New Mexico alone, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said that 85 percent of all foster care children in her state are in state custody as a direct or indirect influence of methamphetamine.

''In New Mexico, we have 22 sovereign entities. We know that it's not just about Native American country,'' she said. ''It's also about our whole state. In fact, what's happened in the urban areas - the eradication in the urban areas has pushed it out into the rural areas of New Mexico.

''We have to be partners. We have to get rid of the production. But since we know it's still here, we have to really concentrate on prevention because the rehab option is the most expensive and the hardest to do.''

''One of the more global impacts that you're seeing across the reservations is methamphetamines because of how it kills - actually kills an individual,'' Artman said.

''It turns the mind against the body. It is killing a generation - perhaps even two generations - of Native Americans. Not only are we losing people there, but we are losing entire tribes. We're losing culture, language, history; and that is something that we have to stop. We have to fight against those who distribute meth, because it's essentially like a new smallpox, but we've been lured into it.''

In addition to the destruction of Native family units and Native culture, meth causes other health problems throughout Native communities. Dr. Gerald Ignace, president of the AAIP, said that meth is also linked to other blood-borne diseases.

''Methamphetamine, in addition to having the problems of being addictive and causing euphoria, is also associated with an increased risk of suicides, increased risk for developing infections such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C,'' Ignace said. ''There's a whole host of things that tend to go along with it.''

''In the younger crowd, we also see a lot of teen pregnancy out there, not just in Indian country, but across the land,'' Garcia added, about effects of meth.

''If methamphetamine is a part of that, and we see our innocent ones that are going to be born already addicted. A devastation, that's what I think. We're almost to the epidemic mode now. We've got to curtail it.''

The common theme among these participants is that this prevention campaign is one of many tools in what many Native, federal and state leaders see as not just a generic ''war on drugs'' but as a true war in Indian country in which there will be many battles that need a united front against it. To join in the campaign, visit

''It's going to have a great, great positive impact on how we can battle and how we can kill meth,'' Garcia said. ''This meth campaign is a result of our efforts: and we visited a lot of communities, talked to a lot of tribal leaders, talked to a lot of community members, and talked to a lot of youth. This hits home, but it's also a way to broadcast publicly all over this country. I think it's going to be a great thing.''