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Garcia's 'call to action' answered

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In his 2006 State of Indian Nations address, National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia raised the campaign against methamphetamine abuse as a top priority. ''Meth is killing our children, affecting our cultures and ravaging our communities,'' he said. His comments helped spark a Senate hearing on the issue, resulting in the introduction of bills targeting meth use among Indian tribes. As Indian Country Today goes to press, Garcia will speak again to Indian country. There is little doubt that the meth crisis initiative will continue, given its recent achievements.

The 110th Congress opened session with the introduction of legislation aimed at meth use among Indian tribes. The Native American Methamphetamine Enforcement and Treatment Act is sponsored by Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., co-chairman of the Native American Caucus and a member of the House Resources Committee. Introduced on Jan. 17, the bill aims to make Indian tribes eligible for federal funding to confront the production and use of meth. The Indian Tribes Methamphetamine Reduction Grants Act, sponsored by then-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addresses the effects of meth on reservation crime on reservation law enforcement and tribal health and social services. Two other measures focus on the reporting of crime and health statistics as affected by meth use in Indian country.

The comprehensive nature of the proposed legislation speaks to the substantial obstacles facing Indian communities. Congress' relative quickness to spring into action is likely due to the partnership between specific House and Senate committees, and the frightening rapidity with which the meth epidemic spreads.

While we applaud these bipartisan efforts, there is a gaping hole in the defense. The continuing struggle for the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act underlies all of this new legislation. The IHS is chronically underfunded and is ill-equipped to competently manage yet another health or social epidemic. These bills consider the health and wellness of victims of meth use; it makes sense to be able to provide ourselves with adequate treatment measures.

A report released Jan. 23 cites that Native people suffer from substance abuse disorders at rates higher than any other racial or ethnic group. Although data on meth use was not factored in, tribal leaders throughout the nations agree that is on the rise. In Indian communities, meth use is not only a cause; it's an effect, preying on those already drowning in problems associated with alcohol and drug abuse. Ironically, the inclusion in the IHCIA of culturally-based treatment programs that emphasize and promote Indian values and spirituality is a sticking point for the Bush administration.

We hope that the good work to push meth legislation will not go to waste. The facilities and services in targeted communities must be modernized if they are to be successful in this modern battle. Maybe we need to speak their language for a better understanding of our needs. New threats require new tactics, to paraphrase the president. We must remain vigilant.