Kevin Woster reports: March 25, 2016
Parents and tribal officials on the Pine Ridge Reservation are facing a worrisome surge in methamphetamine use among tribal youth.
Friday in Pine Ridge Village, family members of meth users and their supporters marched to the front of the meth fight, proclaiming a grassroots campaign to rid the reservation of the potentially deadly drug.
They began at noon in light rain and chill winds, marching from the hill where the old Indian Health Service Hospital used to stand and down U.S. Highway 18 into town.
Their goal is for tribal members, and in particular the young, to withstand the storm of methamphetamine use that has been sweeping across their reservation.
Nineteen-year-old Jerica Dreamer, a former user, brought hard personal experience to Friday’s march against meth.
“It’s a bad thing. It’s really bad,” she said. “It hurts you. And it makes your body feel real ugly and sick.”
Dreamer said her addicted sister was recently jailed for meth use. She said other friends and relatives have the same problem.
“A lot of people my age and younger are starting to do meth,” she said. “And it’s not OK. It’s not good. It’s poisoning our people.”
Dreamer’s mother, Julie Richards, leads the Mothers Against Meth Alliance on the reservation. Richards began working on the meth problem when she recognized that another daughter was a user. She also developed a Mothers Against Meth Alliance Facebook page, where she gets contacts from people seeking information on meth or help with meth problems and loved ones who are addicted.
Richards organized Friday’s march, which attracted Susan Shockey from the Red Shirt Community 55 miles away.
“I come to support Julie’s effort on our reservation,” she said. “We want to get the message out to the people, to the youth, that meth isn’t Lakota.”
The Lakota culture relies on spirituality, not chemicals, Shockey said. She hopes more public awareness and grassroots marches and rallies and education campaigns can prevent and help reduce meth use.
Marchers Friday said every step forward in an event like the march and rally takes them closer to their goal of ridding the reservation of meth. But they know also it’s a big job.
Babe Poor Bear said she has “a cousin who’s hooked on meth,” and a niece who is also addicted. The problem is immense, and has overwhelmed the government system, she said.
“We have a system that’s not working here,” she said. “We no longer can rely on the system that is not working. We’re now working collaboratively, from a grassroots effort, which is what’s going on here today.”
“We understand it’s a very difficult time for our leaders,” said Babe Poor Bear of Pine Ridge. “We understand it’s a difficult time for our families. They’re at a loss. Nobody knows what to do with this meth epidemic.”
But they know enough to organize and fight it, one step at a time.
Marchers said it’s important for tribal government, law enforcement and treatment programs to increase work against meth. But they said grassroots events and outreach will have the greatest impact.