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Summit attendees focus on need for strong drug enforcement measures

BISMARCK, N.D. - Methamphetamine and prescription drugs on the streets and on the reservations are problems in North Dakota but, with cooperation between the state and the tribal governments and some creative solutions at the local level, solutions are possible.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told attendees of the 11th annual Intertribal Council Summit that he proposed that meetings take place across the state between the tribes and state to reduce and possibly eradicate the effects of drugs on children and families.

Federal laws restricting the sale of cold medicines across the counter took effect in 2005; the laws also apply to reservations. These laws have had a profound effect on the number of methamphetamine labs in North Dakota.

''Before these laws took effect, we were seizing one meth lab somewhere in the state every day. Now in 2007, we've had only nine this year - a huge reduction,'' Stenehjem said.

''However, the battle is far from won. The importance of this drug now coming from superlabs in Mexico is ever increasing. Nowhere is this more evident than on our state's reservations, and I'm sure that all of you have become painfully aware of this fact,'' he said.

Of the children placed in foster care in North Dakota, 24 percent were victims of meth abuse. Some counties reported 50 percent, Stenehjem said.

''This is an alarming number, considering that 10 years ago there were none. It's time to reach the point where all of us, together, insist we are not going to take it anymore.''

Stenehjem suggested that to work cooperatively, the tribes and the state can protect the families and children. Drug dealers do not respect jurisdictions and they exploit jurisdictional gaps in enforcement when looking for places to set up shop.

He praised the state Safe Trails Task Force as a place to start. It is a multijurisdictional joint task force. The FBI, Bureau of Criminal Identification, local law enforcement agencies and the BIA are all members. The BIA, however, has not assigned a person to attend the meetings.

Stenehjem said law enforcement efforts will be successful when there is accountability on and off the reservations. He urged the tribes to join in the task force to work for a common goal.

Domestic violence is also a result of abuse of drugs and alcohol and complicated by other social issues. But in the state of North Dakota only one rape that occurred on a reservation was prosecuted, according to Karrie Azure, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, and member of the North Dakota Task Force on drug and alcohol issues.

''One in three women are raped in their lifetime; where is the federal responsibility to prosecute?'' she asked.

Azure asked law enforcement how her task force or others could help. People are afraid to get involved by reporting drug incidents because of a fear of retaliation, she said.

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''Getting people in housing districts to call law enforcement when drugs are present is difficult. The worse thing is seeing something happen, then report it and nothing is done,'' she said.

On the Standing Rock Reservation, only one officer may be on duty during a night shift.

She said it was hard to get law enforcement to come to the task force meetings because there are so few officers. The Great Plains region could use 500 officers in Indian country, but there are only 275.

Azure said that to make a difference, it would require cooperation among all agencies: federal, state and tribal.

''There is nothing worse than having people in communities victimized by drugs. I think we will lose a generation of people. Talk to your children about drugs,'' Azure said.

But she admitted that some communities don't know the signs or what meth looks like. Educating the children and the communities is needed, she said.

''We do have solutions. We must put education, treatment and law enforcement together,'' said Jesse Taken Alive, councilman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

''Children's dreams are being diminished; we are living in pain. We have always had to beg for money and now we have to be innovative because we always hear there are no resources,'' Taken Alive said.

When a federal grant is awarded, five people are hired. Four people fill out the required paperwork and one person does the actual work authorized in the grant, Taken Alive said.

Azure said some of the tribes and organizations have become innovative by holding sobriety rides and walks and by bringing in speakers. She said that creating a task force at the tribal level would be helpful for the collection of data so that the federal government would have something concrete. But the collecting of data and sharing across jurisdictional lines is still difficult. Tribes do not want their data used by other agencies.

A plan is also in the works for a treatment facility that will be operated by the tribes. Some of the tribal codes will also be revised.

While the number of meth labs in North Dakota and on the reservations has been declining, the number of meth addicts is increasing and much of that is on the reservations. Resources normally used to break up the labs can now focus on arresting those who bring the drugs into the state and on reservations. Most of the meth comes in from Mexico, Stenehjem said.

Tribal leaders continued to insist that more law enforcement and resources be made available through the federal government.