Community action group takes aim at drug dealers

Natives Against Heroin call out the drug dealers/users at their own homes on the Mille Lacs Band reservation chanting, “Shut it down – Shut it down”

The rain finally let up in the Mille Lacs Lake area for at least a day, although on Thursday, Oct. 5, the cloud cover remained thick – almost like a black cloud. That didn’t stop “Natives Against Heroin” from walking through the streets of the Mille Lacs Band reservation to give drug dealers a strong message. “Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down,” they chanted in front of houses where there is known drug activity.

NAH, an activist group from Minneapolis, coordinated with a group of concerned Mille Lacs Band members to organize the all-day event. Their mission: to stand before as many known drug houses as they could and call them out.

The first Thursday of the month is “per cap” day on the Rez. Per Capita Distribution, as it is officially named, is the day a percentage of the casino revenue is disbursed to the Band membership once a month.

“We understand there is a lot of drug activity on the first Thursday of the month,” Bob Eagle, one of the coordinators for the event, said. “That is why we chose per cap day and this place.”

Eagle was standing in the parking lot of Grand Market, the Band owned grocery store, surrounded by 20 or so other Band members and members of NAH. The group all explained drug dealers are known to target that parking lot to sell their drugs to the users with a fresh chunk of cash in their hands, ready to get high. Dealers/users also have been known to harass elder Band members who cash their per cap checks at the corner bank. Another group of concerned community members were standing by to escort elders to and from their cars to decrease chances of harassment.

By 11 a.m. there had already been two confirmed heroin overdoses on the reservation and one overdose later that morning off trust land at the Band owned Tesoro gas station on Hwy. 169. The gas station is just outside of the Tribal police department’s authorized jurisdiction and has become a hot-spot for dealers. These overdoses, and one additional for a total of four, were confirmed by Tribal police. “When we administer Narcan [antidote] and it works, it is then classified as an overdose on our records,” Tribal police chief Sara Rice said.

There have been 49 overdoses on the reservation in the last year, Rice added.

With megaphone in hand, NAH coordinator James Cross shouted to one household, “We know what it’s like to be where you are. We can help. We don’t want these drugs in our community. Come out and join us. We can help you.”

Although many were calling it a protest, it was more of a simple presence, according to Eagle.

“This is not a protest. We are protectors. The community members do not want drugs in our community,” Eagle said. “[Drug activity] increases on per cap day with dealers and then overdoses. We want them all to know we don’t want them here.”

Band member Mick Davis agreed. “We are protecting our people,” Davis said. “We stand together, and this shows we are united. The only way to get [drugs] out is to show we care,” Davis said.

It is the way of the Anishinabe to be peaceful and care for one another “like family,” Davis said. “We have family members who are lost, and we want them to know we care.”

Community members prepared a list of known drug houses. “We see what is going on. We know what they are doing,” Eagle said.

It was past noon on Thursday. The protectors had visited three drug houses that morning. The group had congregated in the Grand Market parking lot and prepared a meal. The food – brats, burgers, hot dogs, chips, cookies, and more – was all donated by other concerned community members for the protectors to fuel their bodies for an afternoon of visiting more houses.

“For far too long our community was turning a blind eye. No more,” Eagle said, shaking his head. “No more. We are letting the dealers know they are not welcome here.”

Cross said there have been a variety of meetings regarding the heroin epidemic that has plagued Tribal lands over the last few years. “We were sick of meetings and nothing getting done. What we talk about, we need to act on,” Cross said. “We need to come out in the community to be the bridge between the addicts and the community that is already changing.”

NAH have banded together in the name of community action, Cross said. The group travels from reservation to reservation where there are known heroin issues. They have visited six Minnesota reservations recently and are scheduled to visit the Ho Chunk reservation in Wisconsin in the near future.

“This is a black spirit that has a choke hold on our people that knows us better than we know ourselves. It knows when we are weak. It knows when we are lonely. It knows when we are angry. He feeds on that stuff. That’s why we bring our ceremonies. That’s why we pray. That’s why we smudge. We pray for the people in that house, in every house.”

Cross continued, “That gets the positive spirits to push out the negative spirits. Our medicine is stronger than that medicine that is in there. We have to stand up and fight back. This is what solidarity looks like.”

Gail Tyson is an elder with the Mille Lacs Band. “I am 63 years old. They call me ‘Walk Far Woman,’” Tyson said. “I want to clean up our reservation. I walk everywhere. I see the cars and people going in and out of drug houses. We all know which ones they are. I wish more elders would speak up.”

Tyson added she knows it is a hard addiction to kick, and she understands that. “I am here to offer support to the protectors and to the addicts. We want to get rid of the dealers.”

The NAH and the Band members had plans to visit another four or five houses on the reservation that afternoon. It is a community member effort to take a stand against heroin and other drugs plaguing the Mille Lacs Band reservation.

“We can’t fix it today, but we sure can fix it down the line,” Cross said.

Source: Mille Lacs Messanger

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