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Chippewa Leaders Share Thoughts on Opioid Crisis

By Joe Morey News Editor


The Chippewa Federation met at the Sevenwinds Casino on Thursday, Jan. 19. Nearly two dozen leaders from the six Chippewa tribes of Wisconsin held a discussion about the opioid crisis that currently affects all their tribes.


Lac du Flambeau council member Brooks Big John said his tribe declared a state of emergency to help them combat the opioid epidemic that plagued their community.


“We’re trying to fight this epidemic but it takes time and it didn’t start overnight, so it won’t be solved overnight. You got to be in it for the long haul. It affects our families and our kids and it just keeps snowballing,” Big John explained. “This isn’t just about opioids because the opioid crisis leads into housing issues.”


Big John said when LDF stood up and started to do something they saw SAMHSA come along, “And we started to see funds funneled back to the Rez. Now we’re looking at a Wellness Camp on Lake Pokegama which offers things for our youth. The crisis is still there but we are doing things.”


The LDF health clinic also has a policy that if a person is issued ten pills one day and are called the next day, “Then you better be able to come in and show that you still have nine pills, and if they don’t come in and show it, there’s consequences,” Big John explained.


LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) member Gary “Little Guy” Clause asked when do we draw the line.


“We need to find a way. My question is can we do something collectively, between all of our tribes,” Little Guy asked. “As far as the housing issue, people do drugs in the homes and may not even live there, then it’s the kids and grandparents who are the ones who get kicked out.”


LCO TGB member Tweed Shuman explained that LCO now has a Healing to Wellness Court and that it’s helping provide alternatives.


Shuman went on to share his many years as a registered nurse at the LCO Tribal Clinic where he witnessed the opioid crisis evolve.


“During this time I.H.S. funding was only a small fraction of the need. Many tribal members couldn’t receive adequate services to address the chronic pain issues secondary to insufficient funding,” Shuman stated.


“We provided funding for the treatment services of many of our affected tribal members but when they come home they go right back to the same behaviors before they left. It doesn’t always work. But jail isn’t going to work either,” Shuman said. “I don’t think kicking them out of their homes is going to work because they just move into another home and now you have two houses.”


Mike Decorah, St. Croix Tribe’s Governmental Affairs Director, said Colorado, since going legal recreational marijuana, has seen a 25% reduction in opioid use and overdoses.


“We need to look at this. In Colorado there’s less traffic accidents and there’s less use among minors. Our tribal leaders need to get educated on this,” DeCorah said.


Red Cliff’s Marvin DeFoe said at Red Cliff, 75% of offenders end up right back in jail, “So we thought the best approach is to reach them while they were still in jail, rather than wait till they get out.”


DeFoe said he was discussing the crisis with an Elder and he mentioned to the Elder that the tribe should build a building, a treatment center, and the Elder said your treatment center is your community, it’s your people.


“Are we going to make our tribes 100% opioid free? Probably not, but we have to do something. We need to look closely at what is working, at what’s making an impact,” DeFoe said.


Brooks Big John said at LDF, Vivitrol is working. “The price is down and we created a policy for it at our clinic,” Big John said.


Chairman Garland McGeshik of Mole Lake noted how much money is spent on each individual involved in drugs, on treatment or incarceration. He asked if we need to go back to the old ways of banishment. “I know it’s our people but how much do we continue to spend on this? They hand out this junk to our young people. When do we escort them off the reservation?”


Bryan Bainbridge of Red Cliff said this is more than an opioid crisis. “It’s a public health crisis. We are finding needles everywhere. It affects our children. It affects everyone. It doesn’t help to alleviate only part of the problem without alleviating the whole problem.”


Little Guy said you don’t even see the effects of these drugs on kids until they are about 8 or 9. We need to start monitoring them when they are younger, like Headstart and kindergarten.


Big John said LDF got tough. “We banished over 100 people. We put their pictures up at the casino. We started taking their cars and locking them up. They said ‘you can’t do that’ and we said, watch us. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.”


Big John added it’s important to get the membership of your tribe to buy in. “We heard the cries from our people and it was for us leaders to act.”


Big John said when LDF declared their state of emergency, it wasn’t so much martial law, but it did give the tribal government the ability to move money around.


“We still have the junk around but we’ve made a difference. Now we have a joint state of emergency with Bad River. Maybe we need to declare a state of emergency as the Chippewa Federation for all of our tribes,” Big John stated.