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A Circle of Healing for Native Children Endangered by Drugs

This video describes the roots of alcohol and drug abuse in Native communities and illustrates the effects of drug endangerment in Indian Country along with cultural practices and programs that are working to heal individuals and communities across the Nation.

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ROE W. BUBAR, NATIVE STUDIES SCHOLAR, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: Kids tend to be healthy when they grow up in an environment where they feel loved, where they feel safe. And I think safety's a really big issue for kids, particularly in Indian Country. Having a sense of predictability—that really produces kids that come out feeling healthy. And that can happen in lots of different ways, and does in different cultural milieus. Possession or manufacturing or distribution or use of illegal substances in the home or in the place of residence that the child is living in really gets in the way of a parent or a caretaker being able to provide what we need to provide for children. And a lot of kids growing up in those environments, they've mastered a way of being very secretive about what's going on in the home and very protective. Kids that have grown up in chaotic environments where there's been illegal drug use and other issues going on in the house, they really need to know that even if their parents are not able to get off of drugs or alcohol, that they potentially can heal from the effects of growing up in that kind of a situation.

GIRL: I grew up a very angry child. My dad, he would...he would really beat on my mom. I didn't know what it was like to live without screaming, without beer cans all over, without worrying about this, worrying about that. When my dad pulled my mom's hair, I heard some of her hair come out of her head, her scalp. You wake up in the morning and your whole house is all dirty from people spilling beer, and your mom's not home. Just a lot of chaos.

BOY: I wouldn't talk to anybody about my problems. And so after, like, stressing and stressing and keeping everything bottled up, I just finally broke down one day and attempted suicide.

ROE BUBAR: Drug-endangered kids are really kids that are at risk of suffering physical and emotional and other types of harm.

ANNA, SHOSHONE-BANNOCK TRIBES: I remember my mom being gone a lot. Eating, feeding ourselves was completely up to my brothers and myself. We didn't have clothes. We didn't...we were pretty much just living on our own. And so that was hard.

JEREMY, BURNS PAIUTE: When my parents started drinking, I would have to step up for my sisters, you know, and then take care of them while the party went on.

MARSHA, ISANTI DAKOTA: I've never forgotten what...what some of my family members have done to me. I've never forgot. I carry it with me all the time. I carry that pain with me all the time.

LINDON DUKE, CHIEF OF POLICE, CAHTO TRIBE: Intergenerational trauma, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, family violence—it all goes hand-in-hand. This issue is important to me. It should be important to every officer in law enforcement that comes in contact with children.

JAYEL WHITTED, POLICE OFFICER, CAHTO TRIBE: I can't imagine how many calls I've gone to where, you know, you have a child, the child doesn't complain, he never says anything. You know, he's just there. As long as the community is endangered with drugs, then every kid is going to be drug-endangered in that community.

VALAURA IMUS, VICTIM SPECIALIST, BIA, HOPI: When the crime happens in the home, often children are involved. They're witnesses to these crimes.

RYAN FISHER, DEPUTY, CASS COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: On the calls that involve, you know, taking either the mother or the father away, you know, under an arrest situation, to see the children's reactions...it's devastating to see what the children have to go through.

VALAURA IMUS: If we're a part of a raid, a drug raid, we're basically pulling children out with nothing. We're traumatizing them by taking them out of their home, their comfort environment, to an area where they're not familiar. That trauma is secondary to what they've already experienced with the crime.

JAYEL WHITTED: Someone needs to be a voice for these children that have no voice.

KOREY WAHWASSUCK, ASSOCIATE JUDGE, LEECH LAKE TRIBAL COURT, CREE: People that are growing up and they're mad, and they don't even know why they're mad. But a lot of it has to do with the underlying trauma.

RICK THOMAS, ELDER, SANTEE SIOUX NATION, ISANTI DAKOTA: They start using. They start smoking at the age of 12 and 13. They're the ones that are going out looking for love, and young girls at 14, 16 getting pregnant. You know, they're looking for that love. Every human being wants love, you know. And tremendous amount of identity issues. Who am I?

TELANO GROESBECK, NORTHERN ARAPAHO TRIBE: I was an 11-year user, and there was a point in my life that nothing else mattered, you know. To where my tradition was put on the backburner, my loved ones were put on the backburner because of my drug use. I was indicted along with 43 other individuals here on our Wind River Indian Reservation. We were indicted for distribution of methamphetamine.

ROE BUBAR: So if kids have grown up in drug-endangered environments, and we wait until they present in the system with significant substance abuse issues themselves, it's a really late intervention.

KOREY WAHWASSUCK: In my work as a judge, every day I see young people that are struggling that are so smart and that have so much potential. And I see what they're going through, and I want something better for them.

ROE BUBAR: We really need to be doing more systemic work across communities because this is a public health issue. This isn't just an Indian Country issue. This is really a national public health issue in our country and in our communities.

RICK THOMAS: It's a hard thing to talk about, and I think that's one of the problems with our people is talking about things that really affect us, you know, sharing that, you know. That's one of the biggest problems I've seen working in a clinical environment. They didn't want to talk about it. They know it's there. Therapists know that they're there. But it's hard to bring it out.

KOREY WAHWASSUCK: It's really important, especially when we talk about trauma and some of the things that lead to drug and alcohol abuse and some of the issues that we're trying to address, we really have to look at that trauma and the experience of Native American populations, of the tribal people. And there's a lot of differences between tribes, but a lot of the experiences and some of the basic things that people have gone through are pretty similar.

ROE BUBAR: Historical trauma in general is really that idea of unresolved trauma and grief. And that really causes or contributes to chronic problems.

RICK THOMAS: We're looking at three to five generations of distortion, of a distorted view of who we are as Indian people. Not one individual can change this community. It's going to take tribal government. It's going to take every service provider. It's going to take the educational system, the social system.

KOREY WAHWASSUCK: Everybody in these small communities throughout our region are friends and family, and so everybody's impacted when someone is harmed.

STACI, CUP’IK: I am not going to be an alcoholic. If I ever have children, I don't want them to live in that kind of...live that way. I mean, I struggled, so I don't want my kids to struggle.

WOMAN: All rise.

THERESA POULEY, CHIEF JUDGE, TULALIP TRIBAL COURT, COLVILLE TRIBE: Courts can have a huge impact if especially tribal courts try to embrace the family setting of a community to allow the focus for a family and an extended family that they really can make a fundamental difference not only in behavior today, but for kids and grandkids.

DEWAYNE WABASHA, ISANTI DAKOTA: Change is possible, you know, and it's necessary. I've been volunteering for Fatherhood is Sacred. First I was court-ordered in my past, you know, because of my drug use and being incarcerated and stuff like that. And after I graduated from there, you know, I just kept coming back. I needed something to hold on to, and that was something that worked for me at the time.

TELANO GROESBECK: The thing that I, you know, found out working with the youth is you have to listen, that the answer you're looking for is right there within the youth. So you give them time. You give them time to let them build their thoughts and their courage. By the time they got everything and they're like, "OK, well, I got...it's time for me to say what I have to say," the answer you're looking for is right there.

THERESA POULEY: Our goal is try to figure out how to make families whole, how to take care of children.

VALAURA IMUS: I've seen a huge change in the last few years where we're finally collaborating, we're finally discussing safety and what is best for drug-endangered children.

JAYEL WHITTED: I've got to make sure everything's safe, but then, hey, let's also glance down and make sure that, you know, we're not missing the 2-year-old toddler holding on, or we're not missing the kid in the stroller. Those are kind of the things that just got let go and, as officers, we've missed. And so it's time for us to refocus so that we're catching more of these kids.

LINDON DUKE: Children are our future, and if there's one child in trouble from a parent or caregiver's drug use, that's one child too many. It's not too late to change this, to reverse the cycle.

Date Created: June 1, 2020