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Oklahoma tribes step up fight against meth

By S.E. Ruckman -- Tulsa World, Okla.

TULSA, Okla. (MCT) - After the National Congress of American Indians announced a renewed anti-methamphetamine initiative at a November 2007 meeting, a burst of training and prevention has cropped up among state tribes.

In the Chena pow wow building of the Iowa Tribe in Perkins, tribal employees are learning to identify the telltale signs of methamphetamine in housing projects.

Harrah Police Department narcotics officer Jay T. Barton told the group about contamination, identification and jurisdiction.

He walked them through the process of identifying paraphernalia that might show that someone is manufacturing meth in a tribal housing unit.

Barton said Indian country is doubly vulnerable to methamphetamine.

Drug use among non-Indian populations also touches tribes because users might gravitate to tribal casinos, where they are lured by the possibility of money and around-the-clock hours.

Oklahoma's unique jurisdictional situation complicates the issue of arresting offenders.

All casinos are located on federal trust land, which is off-limits to state and local law enforcement unless there is a cross-jurisdictional agreement between the tribe and a municipality. Most tribes just want the offender off the premises, Barton said.

''Jurisdictional issues are the Catch-22 in controlling meth use and prosecution on Indian land,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the Association of American Indian Physicians in Oklahoma City has taken on the Indian Country Methamphetamine Initiative project to link federal, tribal and local resources to work in a larger prevention scope, officials said.

The association is administering a $2.5 million grant; the only state recipient is the Choctaw Nation in Durant.

Nationally, the Crow, Navajo and Winnebago tribes also were selected to participate.

The Choctaws' Behavioral Health Department will use the funds for five years to help deal with an influx of meth addicts.

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Their treatment uses culturally sensitive methods to foster community-based or homespun prevention, officials said.

''We're seeing people use meth for the high, but they are also wanting to make money from it, which compounds the problem,'' said Gary Nunley, the Choctaw Nation's director of behavioral health.

The treatment services, funded by grants and tribal monies, are open to Choctaws and members of other tribes.

Two tribal facilities are open in Durant and Talihina because meth use in southeastern Oklahoma shows no signs of slowing down.

''Meth is a big problem in rural areas,'' Nunley said. ''There are times when we have to turn people away.''

Part of the goal also is to establish a database on meth use in the area.

At present, the lack of data hampers tribes from pinpointing trends among Indian meth users, Nunley said.

In Tulsa, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians opened the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Services Facility in July.

The tribe works with Native Health Systems in the project.

Tribal officials said the center also treats other types of addiction and offer services to Indians and non-Indians.

The need for meth training in Indian country has many facets, said Mary Harjo, an Iowa tribal child welfare worker.

''Around here, you might have a Native grandma whose grandson is cooking meth in her house and she doesn't even know it, and they're all getting contaminated,'' she said.

Copyright (c) 2007, Tulsa World, Okla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.