Methamphetamine crisis was focus of legislative summit

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WASHINGTON -- National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia
opened a "courageous conversation" with a call for collaborative action
against methamphetamine use and drug trafficking in Indian communities.

The IHS estimates that 30 percent of Native youth have experimented with
meth (often termed "crystal meth"). The drug has been increasingly
identified as a scourge across rural America. In Indian country, the Navajo
report a 100 percent increase in meth use over a five-year period, and it
played a lead role in the 353 percent increase in criminal drug charges on
the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming between 2003 and 2004.
Kathleen Kitcheyan, chairman of the San Carlos Apache, blamed crystal meth
for an epidemic of suicides and addicted newborns in her tribe.

"How can we survive when we see these numbers?" Garcia asked. Meth's
devastating effects on health led him to a matter-of-fact conclusion: "If
our children are not in their right minds ... there's no way in the world
they're going to learn."

In laying out the blueprint for a joint effort between tribal leaders, the
Bush administration and Congress, Garcia added, "It's got to be a community
effort." State and local governments, courts and tribal police, all must
join in a united front against meth and drug trafficking, he said, in the
lightly patrolled rural locales of Indian country. Tribal legal codes are
vital to initiating relationships with local and state law, he said, adding
that many model codes are available.

The topic of meth stirred an exceptionally strong response at a
standing-room-only press conference Feb. 27, opening day of the NCAI Tribal
Leaders Legislative Summit. Ryan Wilson, president of the National Indian
Education Association, called Wind River his community and said the Denver
Post report documenting meth's rise on the reservation was unwelcome to
many residents there. But in his view, it opened a forbidden topic to
public discussion.

"We've got to have courageous conversations about this," Wilson said.
Everyone on a reservation will tend to know without saying where meth is
made and distributed, he said, because meth traffickers target young Indian
women. As girlfriends and companions, they serve as entry points to the
reservation.

In a conversation after the press conference, Wilson explained, "They're
able to really set up shop through that." Many healthy relationships bring
good people to the reservation, he hastened to add, but the success of meth
traffickers with young Indian women points to the breakdown of kinship
systems, which required suitors to approach a woman's relatives first. In
the absence of strong traditional kinship systems, Wilson said, the burden
of controlling drug trafficking is now on Indian communities to be "more
aggressive in weeding it out."

Darrell Hillaire, council member of the Lummi in Washington, challenged
Indian communities to take on meth as a wellness issue, setting an example
for the rest of the country. Indian country can't win a fight with meth as
a drug trafficking and enforcement issue only, he said.

Taking up the theme, Walter E. Lamar, of Lamar Associates in Washington,
said that in parts of Indian country, one or two policemen patrol a million
acres. "You can't be pro-active. You can't be a first line of defense."

Lamar said tribal law enforcement funding is up against Bush's
performance-based budgeting, which he described as a threat to
self-determination because it deprives programs of funding if performance
measures aren't met.