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Red Lake Nation Confronts Drug Crisis with New Banishment Protocol

Red Lake Nation addresses a growing drug epidemic with a new banishment protocol and community events focusing on health and sobriety.

The Red Lake Tribal Council is taking measures to address a growing drug epidemic on the Red Lake reservation. Tribal officials say that heroin and opioid addictions have brought about a wave of overdoses, deaths, child neglect and abandonment, and criminal incarcerations in the Red Lake Nation community.

In response to the drug crisis, the Red Lake Nation council declared a public health emergency on July 11. Immediately following the declaration, the council began ramping up efforts to address the growing crisis, including amending a banishment ordinance from 2003. While banishment has been a possibility since 2003, an official protocol for banishment was lacking in the earlier ordinance.

“The attack by drugs is devastating to the health of our people,” Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki said in a meeting back in July. “Families are breaking.”


On August 8, the tribal council unanimously passed a resolution outlining the necessary banishment protocol. On that same day, a second unanimous resolution was passed, establishing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for tribal members suffering from substance abuse. MAT treatment would include opioid treatment programs, behavior therapy, and medications.

Behaviors prompting banishment could include buying, selling, manufacturing, transporting, administering, and distributing drugs. A petition process, outlined in the most recent banishment resolution, requires tribal police or prosecutors to file a petition for banishment to the tribal secretary. The petition would be followed by an official hearing with the tribal council, and the council would then determine whether or not to banish the tribal member, and for how long. Terms of banishment could range from one to five years.

“We would be foolish to ban somebody for a very small amount (of drugs),” said Michelle Paquin, the tribe’s legal advisor, in a Duluth News Tribunearticle. “It’s just one tool to take out somebody who’s doing (damage to) a lot of people.”

Banishment of tribal members would involve expulsion from the reservation and exclusion from any tribal benefits and privileges, such as hunting and fishing rights, tribal housing, and payments from the tribe. Tribal officials ensure, however, that banishment is not disenrollment, and that there would be opportunities for the banished tribal members to be reinstated back into the community.

According to the Red Lake Nation resolution, tribal members could petition for a cancellation of the banishment and reinstatement into the community by proving evidence of participation in a chemical dependency treatment, completion of their sentence, amends to the community, employment, sobriety, and commitment to traditional or religious values. The reinstated member would also be required to complete 500 hours of community service.

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Banished tribal members could file for a temporary lift of the banishment for the funerals of immediate family members. The temporary lift must be approved by the chairman, and the banished tribal member would be subject to searches by police and travel restrictions while on the reservation.

Red Lake tribal members are also responding to the drug epidemic by organizing a variety of events in the community. Recently, a group of runners set about a four-day run for health and sobriety, and back in July, grassroots organizers with the Natives Against Heroin movement led a march with over 200 participants, including Red Lake tribal council members and Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.

“People came from Cass Lake to be in the march, and from White Earth,” James Cross, Anishinaabe and Dakota, and co-founder of Natives Against Heroin, told ICMN.

“We are developing a network,” said Cross, a resident of Minneapolis. “Most people come and get their drugs here in Minneapolis, so we have to stand together, one voice.”

Cross said heroin overdoses have skyrocketed in tribal communities and nationwide, as the drug has been increasingly laced with fentanyl, one of the strongest opiate drugs on the market.

“The stuff that’s out here is not FDA approved fentanyl,” Cross said. “It’s a homemade batch, so you never know what the potency is. You’re really playing Russian roulette.”

On August 10, President Donald Trump also declared the opioid crisis in the United States a national emergency, days after a recommendation from the presidential opioid commission.

According to the CDC, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. By declaring a national emergency, the federal government is cleared to devote additional funding and resources to addressing the national drug epidemic.

In the meantime, the Red Lake Nation continues to increase their efforts at home, devoting time and resources to healing their community from the devastation of heroin and opioid epidemics.