The Northern Arapaho Business Council has declared a state of emergency amid a crisis of methamphetamine addiction on the Wind River Reservation.
Hundreds of tribal employees - representing departments ranging from tribal housing to historic preservation - were present at Thursday morning's declaration ceremony. The Business Council compelled each of them to make combatting meth addiction a top priority in their work.
"It's a really, really dire situation that we're in. And I'm glad that a lot of us are going to stand up against this drug. A lot of us are going to show them how powerful Arapaho people are," said Business Councilwoman Kim Harjo.
The emergency declaration establishes an anti-meth task force, which will be charged with identifying the factors causing widespread addiction and recommending solutions. It also launches a series of community listening sessions . It states that the tribe has already directed "significant resources" towards combatting meth use, but that the crisis persists.
Members of law enforcement and the Wind River Tribal Court testified on Thursday that they handle a high volume of meth-related crimes, and that addiction is often a factor in cases where tribal children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
Wind River Police Chief Tony Larvie said that he had been "naive" at the start of his tenure to think that tough policing alone could solve the problem.
"I'm trying to walk softly on this subject, because my actions have caused a lot of hardship to this community. My heart was in the right place […] but it's caused a lot of hardship to your families," Larvie said. "We have prosecuted hundreds of people, and we have not had a significant effect on the problem. The change is going to have to come from the community."
Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said the emergency declaration came after consultation with tribal elders, ceremonial leaders, and employees of the Northern Arapaho Tribe's recovery programs. He called on tribal members to participate in upcoming listening sessions and take an active role in developing solutions.
"We owe it to these little ones that run around. It's their generation, we want them to have a better life than we do today. We don't want meth…to be a big major influence on their lives," Spoonhunter said. "We plead to you as staff, as tribal members: help us. Help us in this fight. It's going to take all of us."
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