A common problem

  • John Mecklin

 

It may sound odd to some ears, but it’s accurate to say American Indians are diverse. One small example: Although high-desert reservations are an enduring image in the popular mind, only about one-eighth of Native Americans live on reservations, with roughly two-thirds inhabiting urban areas. Still, some social trends spread widely enough across Native American life to be addressed in general terms. One involves drugs and violence.

A U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study paints what even staid government bureaucrats call “a disturbing picture of the victimization of American Indians and Alaska Natives.” The study, “American Indians and Crime,” notes that the rate at which Indians suffered violent crime in the 1992-2002 time frame was more than twice the national average and far above the victimization level reported by any other ethnic group. In recent years, methamphetamines have added to the violent crime problem and become, as the title of a heartbreaking National Congress of American Indians report suggests, “An American Problem Uniquely Affecting Indian Country.”

The November 2006 report, which draws from government and academic sources, notes that:

  • Native Americans as a group have the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse of any ethnicity in the country.
  • Reservation and rural Native communities have meth abuse rates orders of magnitude higher than the national average, with one tribe reporting that 30 percent of its employees — the community’s supposed leaders — had tested positive for meth use.
  • At least 40 percent of violent crime investigated in Indian Country involves meth in some way, according to FBI offices that deal with Native American crime.

Because of its famed and photogenic waterfalls, the Havasupai Reservation is a worldwide tourist magnet. It is also a small, isolated reservation that has been, as John Dougherty documents in this issue’s cover story, “Problems in Paradise,” overwhelmed by some negative aspects of modern life, including the meth epidemic.

Seemingly everyone who has dealt with crime on the reservation — from the local sheriff to Bureau of Indian Affairs police and tribal elders — sees the need for more cops on the ground, on the Havasupai Reservation and across Indian Country. The NCAI report contends that Indian Country is short, by at least 40 percent, of the law enforcement officers it needs, based on FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs data.

But there is a need not just for more police, but for smarter approaches to the Native American meth problem. A variety of measures — including cooperative law enforcement agreements among Native and non-Native governmental entities and multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task forces — have been undertaken to deal with meth abuse in respectful, yet effective ways. In what seem to me a few of the more innovative efforts, drug dealers are being banished from the reservation, whole families are being counseled and treated for meth abuse, and youth offenders are sometimes “sentenced” to spending time before tribal elders, who assign them cultural tasks and lessons.

Because the meth problem transcends reservation, state and even national boundaries (a significant portion of the Indian meth problem can be traced to Mexican drug cartels that target reservations), these types of cooperation and innovation deserve greatly increased federal funding. With its appeal to both law-and-order and minority-rights constituencies, increased support for anti-meth programs would seem a promising arena for cooperation in Congress, and common cause between Congress and the White House. Speed still kills, and it’s hard to think of a Republican or Democratic reason not to reduce, as far as possible, the number of its victims.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.