ROSEBUD INDIAN RESERVATION, S.D. (KELO) — In the shadow of a national discussion about a South Dakota advertising campaign designed to get people talking about meth, a much smaller group of people gathered in a gym at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Meth is considered an epidemic on South Dakota’s reservations and tribal leaders from across the state gathered at the second State-Tribal Meth Summit this week to find solutions.
Dave Flute is South Dakota’s Secretary of Tribal Affairs. He has seen the prevalence of meth in Indian country first-hand. Not only is he a member of Gov. Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) cabinet, Flute is a former Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal chairman.
“(Meth is) not apart of our culture. Those aren’t things that our ancestors did,” Flute said at Tuesday’s conference in Mission, South Dakota.
Just 24 hours earlier, Noem’s administration launched a nearly $1.4 million advertising campaign called “Meth. We’re on It.” Instantly it became a divisive issue and raised a lot of questions: Was it making fun of South Dakota? Was it making light of a challenging issue? Or was it sparking discussions and raising awareness just as it was designed to do?
Flute thinks it’s a message that’s working. In an interview with KELOLAND News on Thursday, he shared a story of meth taking hold of some of the youngest on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
“Kids are being used to traffic these drugs, they’re being used to deal these drugs, they’re being used as runners and that’s really concerning for everything,” Flute said.
It’s the kids that Flute is most worried about. He said that’s why Noem’s goal of being the governor for the next generation is so important in the meth epidemic fight.
It’s the first line of her biography on the state’s website: “Kristi Noem is a leader consistently challenging the status quo and working hard to make South Dakota stronger for the next generation.”
Meth is a top issue for the first-term governor and Flute.
“It aligns with our tribes and our cultural values within the tribe,” Flute said. “We’re here protect the next generation and so it’s really important to all of us and that’s just some of the things that are going on in Indian country.”
While Flute doesn’t know the exact specifics on how kids are falling victim to this problem on Rosebud, he said in his experience the economics of a tribe can be part of the problem.
“Maybe they’re short on money. Maybe they don’t have food. Maybe they don’t have a nice pair of shoes and they’re willing to do things that are really unfortunate to carry out the mission these drug dealers and these drug traffickers,” he said.
Part of the “Meth. We’re on it.” campaign is designed to specifically target Indian country with targeted Facebook ads, billboards and local media advertisements.
Flute credits meth for a rise in human trafficking and violent crimes. KELOLAND News reached out to both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get specifics about the crime rate (both agencies have jurisdiction on reservations). Neither agency would grant an interview.
“There is a lot to talk about when it comes to how meth is impacting our tribal communities,” Flute said.
It’s not just on reservations though. In the first half of 2019, 2,242 meth-related arrests were made in 50 of 66 counties in South Dakota.
From crime to lost productivity and treatment, a 2009 study found that meth abuse cost the country $23.4 billion in one year.
Back at the state’s second meth summit, Rosebud Sioux Tribal president Rodney M. Bordeaux addressed the crowd about his first-hand experiences.
“Yesterday I went up to our IHS hospital and I saw two young men that I knew,” Bordeaux said on Tuesday.
He said he watched the two men grow up throughout high school and this week they’re in a meth treatment facility.
“I had a great talk with them, I really encouraged them, they came up to me and told me of their issues that they’re dealing with meth and how it took over their lives,” Bordeaux said. “I just really offered a lot of support and encouragement for those two young men because not only are they young but they have a good future ahead of them.”
He said those two young men were courageous to get treatment.
There are seven Indian Health Service locations funded with grants from the federal Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative.
Treatment is expensive. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars for each person. The National Institute of Drug Abuse said the most effective treatments for meth-related substance use disorder are behavioral therapies.
Noem committed more than $1 million in funding to support meth treatment services and more than $730,000 for school-based meth prevention programming in her first budget as governor.
In the 10 and a half months since being inaugurated, her administration has been at odds with some in the Native American community. Tensions at one point lead to the former U.S. Congresswoman being banned on the Pine Ridge Reservation for her support of so-called “riot-boosting” laws related to pipeline construction protests. A federal judge struck down parts of the laws.
Despite differences, both the Native American community and the governor are trying to fight the meth epidemic in the state.
“Although we disagree on some areas, we all agree that this fight against meth needs to continue,” Bordeaux said.
As the leader of a tribe with a membership of more than 33,000 people, Bordeaux told the crowd that the community needs to come together to fight this problem.
“We also want to make sure that we’re continuing this battle along with the governor and the State of South Dakota to make an impact against this evil,” he said. “It’s all about saving our people.”
The state has set up several resources as part of the “On Meth” campaign. If you need help or know someone who does, call 1-800-920-4343 for immediate assistance or text “ONMETH” to 898211. The campaign also has a list of resources including county-by-county treatment and recovery groups at OnMeth.com.