Red Lives Matter: Rally in White Earth raises concern about heroin,meth epidemic
WHITE EARTH -- They were fed up and looking for change -- a group of Native Americans gathered at the tribal headquarters of the White Earth Reservation Wednesday afternoon with one message.
WHITE EARTH - They were fed up and looking for change - a group of Native Americans gathered at the tribal headquarters of the White Earth Reservation Wednesday afternoon with one message.
“Red lives matter,” said Bob Shimek, the man who spearheaded the rally. “We can be idle no more.”
But unlike the “Black Lives Matter” movement designed to take aim at police and race discrimination, the Red Lives Matter event had its sights set on the real threats to Native Americans living on White Earth - heroin and methamphetamine.
The rally was spurred after one of their own - 26-year-old Tiffany Jackson of White Earth - died of an overdose of drugs last week.
Jackson, who was pregnant at the time of her death, had struggled with drugs for quite a while, and according to her aunt, Cheryl Jackson, who was at the rally, it is time for a change.
“I have so many friends and family - it’s ridiculous - that I’ve lost to heroin or whatever, and I just want it all to be gone,” Jackson told the small crowd. “They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to heal our people.”
As the drum group sang and played a traditional Native American healing song, people in attendance stood and reflected on the epidemic of drugs they say is stealing the lives of their people prematurely.
“I’ve been watching this heroin and meth epidemic ripping the soul out of our White Earth Nation for years,” said Shimek, adding that he remembers about five or six years ago when heroin hit the reservation, and it hit hard, taking with it a couple of people every week from overdose.
Shimek said he’s tired of going to the funerals of young people. “I’ve been watching our people die prematurely since I was a little kid, starting with alcohol,” he said. “Then we morphed into other substances. There was the first round of meth, then we went to prescription pills, then we went to heroin and meth combined.”
Although Shimek said he doesn’t have the answers on how to stop the drug epidemic and too-frequent overdose cases on White Earth, he believes that collectively, they all can.
“How it is we’re going to bring about a point where our tribe, our nation, has peace in our heart and in our soul so that there is no business for drug dealers here?” asked Shimek.
“This is about bringing the word to our tribal council and to its law enforcement arm that we can no longer sit by quietly and watch our people die alone of these overdoses.”
Shimek criticized the “bottom-up” approach taken by local law enforcement on White Earth, who are charged with the task of fighting the war on drugs there.
“As we wait, we watch the dealers, we pinch one once in a while, and they try to follow that track to the top to make that big bust like we saw a few weeks ago,” said Shimek, “and that’s great, but on the ground, our people are still dying.”
Waubun native Lera Hephner, a young college student who recently returned from a trip to New Zealand where she lived with an indigenous tribe there, cried at the rally when talking about how that tribe came together through its culture to defeat its drug and alcohol problems.
“Through their culture and through their language and just through being a community, they were able to get through those things and be really successful,” said Hephner. “And it was so awesome for me to realize that we can be the same thing.”
Shimek told the crowd that for years, elders on the reservation had been telling him that one of the big poisons on White Earth was loneliness and that perhaps more kind words and small gestures of caring can help the people of White Earth come together the way he says many hope it will.
“As we sit in our loneliness, we fight…we peck at one another. Our origins are in love, compassion, caring, being good stewards of our families, our community, our land,” said Shimek.
“Even though our numbers are small today, there are a lot of people who are watching…how do we handle this? How do we come together and stand together in solidarity to bring about the changes? If we’re going to get past this, we need to all pick up that torch one way or another.”