(Editors’ Note: This is the final segment of a three-part series on fighting meth in Indian country, from the Wellbriety Conference held in Denver earlier this year.)
Beverly Watts Davis, now a senior policy adviser for treatment and prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, spoke about how the community took back a neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, from crime, drug dealing, prostitution and gang activities. Ya Basta! the community said. Enough is enough.
They organized and began taking the community back. They photographed drug dealers and published their pictures in the neighborhood paper. They got police to walk their beats so that fire, ambulance and other services could come back. They arranged for 150 soldiers of the U.S. Army, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard to demolish 54 vacant houses that were being used for harmful purposes. Finally, once the drugs and crime were gone, they arranged for 700 military and guard personnel to come once a week to be mentors to neighborhood children. Davis says, “It’s about partnerships. It’s about being creative with the resources. No one can tell you what you can’t do. Only you can tell yourself what you cannot do to take back the community.”
Running further with the theme that education is prevention and healing from meth, the Wellbriety Conference was spellbound by the personal survival and recovery story of a former meth addict and suicide attempt survivor. David Parnell, Eastern Cherokee, is a living, walking miracle. He shared a moving, blow-by-blow presentation called “Facing the Dragon!” telling how he descended into methamphetamine hell, tried to take his own life and then, through what must be the Creator’s gift, lived on to tell his healing story to communities across the nation.
In photo after photo, he shows what meth does to a person physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. He shows what it did to him. If a popular recovery story in the before-meth alcohol and drug recovery community was called “scared straight,” Parnell’s story updates it to meth in a story that could be called “scared straighter.”
His recovery story was an important solution available at the conference. He makes it available to any community on request, as his own livelihood, in order to reach the youth and others who might be tempted to fall into the methamphetamine trap.
When asked by Don Coyhis, founder and president of White Bison Inc., what single message he wanted participants to take back to their communities, he said: “It would be hope that people can recover and that we can overcome this. That’s what I hope to be for people, standing up in front and giving this presentation: an example of hope that they can recover and make it through. The second message is that this drug is so deadly that it is going to kill our country if we don’t. But hope is the first one. I do it because I love you so much. The Lord gave me my love back.”
Many more solutions to the problem of meth in Native communities were presented at the conference. There are the many good words from the Wellbriety Council of Elders and the hard work of the workshops and discovery circles as shared with the entire conference on the last day. These mind maps and what they say tap the innate knowledge of the grass-roots. The people themselves know how to get a handle on the meth problem and they came up with their solutions during the four-day event. These solutions will be presented in upcoming materials. But if we were to ask what single message among the thousands we could take back to our communities, what would it be? It might be this:
Indian communities can eliminate meth from their midst. We are not paralyzed. There are solutions. National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia spoke in truth and beauty of the solutions when he said:
“I encourage everyone to continue to be a part of the solution. Don’t give up, but don’t forget your Indian way. Say your prayers. Pray for all those in need, pray for all those who are fighting this battle. Pray for your tribal leaders, because they need the help, they need the support. And if we can remain strong, then the dedication and the commitment will be there for the well-being of Indian country.
We are a people that have every right to be on this mother earth. We are the ones protecting mother earth. I’ll go one step further and say that the Indian people, Indian country, the spirit of Indians, is going to be the solution for this country because they will revert back to those ways. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that we are right. But be that as it may, don’t falter. Continue, and always ask the Great Spirit for help. Don’t forget your way. Don’t forget your children. Don’t forget your language, your culture, your tradition. It’s the one thing we’ve got over the dominant society and others, which is powerful, so powerful.”
Don Coyhis, Mohican Nation, is founder and president of White Bison Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.(www.whitebison.org.). Richard Simonelli is a freelance writer allied with Natives in the areas of addiction recovery, education and traditional knowledge. He is a staff associate and media specialist for White Bison Inc.