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White Earth Tribal Council declares public health emergency

WHITE EARTH, MINN. -The White Earth Reservation Tribal Council passed a proclamation Monday, Jan. 31, declaring a public health emergency with respect to prescription medication and illegal drug abuse.

"We need to take down our fences and work together," said Chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor. "Business as usual isn't working - we need to step up our efforts."

Vizenor stressed that prescription medication and illegal drug abuse "is not unique to White Earth - it's a nationwide problem."

A highlight of the proclamation states: "The White Earth Reservation Tribal Council hereby directs all White Earth Tribal agencies, departments and entities to make this proclamation their top priority, and the Tribal Council further directs all White Earth Tribal agencies to collaboratively use their resources in developing solutions to the massive and complex problems caused by prescription drug abuse and the abuse of other illegal drugs, which threatens our nation."

According to the White Earth Police Department, 70-75 percent of the drug problems on White Earth Reservation are the result of prescription medication abuse.

"Our families have all been affected by substance abuse; the suicides and tragedies have impacted us all," said White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Robert J. Durant. "Now we need to need to get away from the blame game and stop letting it drag us down, we need to step up and figure something out."

To counteract the devastation caused by prescription drug abuse, the Tribal Council has assembled a Substance Abuse Collaboration of tribal resources and programs including public health, law enforcement, child protection, chemical dependency, legal, mental health and community councils to work creatively toward solutions to the problems caused by prescription drug abuse.

"The goal is not to be punitive, but to be supportive and helpful," said Vizenor.

In addition to holding community forums throughout the reservation, the committee is currently putting together a resource manual that will list organizations on and off the reservation that individuals can refer with to seek immediate assistance. Currently, individuals can call the Becker County and White Earth Reservation Mental Health Hotline (24 hours) at 218-850-HELP (4357) or 877-380-3621. People experiencing thoughts of suicide can call the Native Alive Campaign Suicide Support Hotline at 888-261-8691.

In addition to the resource manual, the White Earth Police Department is in the development stages of producing six short DVD videos that will deal with alcohol, drug and prescription drug abuse and prevention within the White Earth Nation. The videos will be culturally specific and will initially target young school-aged children.

The next Community Meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Rice Lake Community Center. The Tribal Council and the Substance Abuse Collaboration invite participants to bring ideas and inputs about substance abuse issues affecting communities.