LUMMI, Wash. - The Lummi Nation is turning up the heat in its effort to stop substance abuse within its borders - including a possible ban on liquor sales.
On Dec. 15 and 16, Lummi officials hosted public forums regarding whether alcoholic beverages should be removed from Lummi's convenience stores. No decision has been made.
The forums, sponsored by the Lummi Nation News gave residents "an opportunity to voice their concerns of whether or not tribal government should remove alcohol," said Aaron Thomas, Lummi's public information officer. "Or maybe, perhaps, it is bigger than just the government selling alcohol."
The forums were held in the wake of the death of Cecilia Julius, a one-month-old baby who died in an alcohol related vehicle collision in November. After Cecilia's death, Lummi officials voted unanimously to close liquor sales early that Friday and Saturday. Liquor sales at the casino could not be restricted because of a contractual agreement that the nation signed with its partners, Merit Management.
In a press release issued at the time of that vote, Vice Chairman Perry Adams said the move was designed to send a message that "as tribal leaders (we) do not condone alcohol abuse." It also seemed appropriate in light of the cause of Cecilia's death, he said.
Chairman Darrell Hillaire said Lummi needs to discuss whether alcohol sales should be allowed. "If we are to truly take a stand against drugs and alcohol, our tribal members need to come to an agreement of whether to sell alcohol on the reservation."
Lummi Councilman Henry Cagey believes the issue is bigger than government stores selling alcohol. He said prevention activities, jobs, housing and education are necessary in the battle against substance abuse.
"Getting rid of liquor is not that easy," he said. Removing alcoholic beverages from Lummi stores "is a means to an end. It sends a good message."
Cagey is part of a committee developing a comprehensive employment plan for the nation, including an inventory of Lummi residents' ages and skills.
At the same time, Lummi officials have been working to turn the tide on other substance abuse. An unreported amount of proceeds from Lummi's Silver Reef Casino is placed in a fund for health services and drug treatment and prevention.
Gaming money also helps pay for the Community Mobilized Against Drugs program. Under the program, Tribal Council members, health officials, law enforcement communicate regularly with other law enforcement agencies, the FBI, Indian Health Services, hospitals and pharmacies.
CMAD maintains a database of tribal members who get prescriptions for OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller that has been problematic in the Lummi Nation. If someone is found to be on OxyContin for an excessive period of time, the appropriate agency can visit the user and investigate.
Lummi set up cameras in the McKenzie neighborhood to document and discourage drug activity there. The Lummi Housing Authority uses drug dogs to investigate suspected substance abuse. Money given to residents to help pay utility bills is now given directly to the utility. Convicted drug dealers are expelled from Lummi.
"If you are selling drugs, we will convict you," Thomas said in March. "We will expel you (from the reservation). We are not going to let you sell drugs to our people, to our kids."
On Oct. 30, Lummi officials kicked off renovation of a former apartment complex, which will become a youth treatment center.
"This renovated facility will be the home for many of our youth to obtain the teachings they need to heal from their addictions and get their lives back on track," Hillaire said in a press release.
Hillaire said Lummi residents had urged Lummi leaders for years to open a facility for their children to get assistance.
In November, Lummi Nation teamed with the American Lung Association to provide free "cold turkey" lunches to people who quit smoking or chewing tobacco for at least one day.
According to the Lummi Nation, smoking is highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives (40.8 percent), followed by African Americans (24.3 percent), whites (24.3 percent), Hispanics (18.1 percent), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (15.1 percent).
Tobacco use is a risk factor for heart disease, cancer and stroke - all leading causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.