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Wisconsin Tribes, Authorities Join Forces to Stop Drug and Gang Activity

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On rural Wisconsin reservations, drugs, crime and gang activity are escalating problems. But tribes and other authorities are working together to curb the epidemic. 

RELATED: Gangs Are an Epidemic in Indian Country—But They Can Be Stopped

Formed in 2007, the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative is a collaboration of 10 tribal police departments throughout Wisconsin, as well as local, state and federal authorities.

"It has the ability to shut the drug trade down be it for a few days or a few weeks but it still has the ability and it sends a signal that we will be back and that we are out there," Bryan Kastelic, the task force commander for NADGI, told

The Native American Drug and Gang Initiative recently assisted the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in arresting five people for drugs and criminal activity. 

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"We see a lot of marijuana, prescription medications are huge problem in our community, we're starting to see heroin and methamphetamine come in, cocaine's always been here," Red Cliff Police Chief Bill Mertig said.

John Vaudreuil, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, posted the following about the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative:

One of the component missions of the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative (NADGI) in Wisconsin has been a focus on training regarding drug endangered children (DEC). This focus has arisen because the drug threat on tribal lands is significant, and the most vulnerable victims are those children at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect, as a result of their caregiver’s involvement in the drug culture. NADGI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin have made training of tribal law enforcement in this regard mandatory, and began “DEC in Indian Country” training sessions for relevant persons in the community.

The DEC in Indian Country training session contains two phases. The first phase educates members and professionals from the eleven tribes in Wisconsin regarding drug endangered children, specifically the short and long term physical and psychological effects that occur as a result of living in drug environments. The second phase of the training focuses on each tribe taking concrete steps to bring together various groups to address the problem of drug endangered children within their communities. This multi-disciplinary approach helps ensure swift identification of children living in dangerous drug environments and facilitates a seamless transition through various agency processes in dealing with the problem. To date, five tribes in Wisconsin (Oneida, St. Croix, Red Cliff, Mole Lake and Menominee) have established DEC programs.

Our office’s work with Native American communities to address drug endangered children has become a national model. We have presented our DEC in Indian Country training at conferences in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, and California, and at the national conference of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin received an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) grant in 2007 to focus on methamphetamine and how this drug was affecting Wisconsin. We expanded the focus of the grant to tribal lands and other drugs affecting these communities. Today, our office is providing DEC training and advancing public awareness on prescription pills, inhalants, crack cocaine, heroin, alcohol as well as methamphetamine — all drugs that are plaguing tribal nations. In 2009, we obtained an additional grant through OVC to specifically address drug endangered children in Indian Country.