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Law | National
KUOW Radio: Drug traffickers target Washington reservations


"Federal policies isolated the Lummi from their culture. But geography plugged them into the drug trade. The Lummi reservation is a few miles off I–5 and less than 30 miles from the Canadian border. The highway runs all the way south to Mexico. Long sections follow old Native footpaths.

Now, drug traffickers whiz along its thick vein of concrete. They target Indian country. Rez crimes often slip through tribal, federal and state authorities. FBI investigations in Washington Indian country dropped dramatically in the wake of 9/11.

So the story often goes like this. Gangs send traffickers to find lonely Indian women to befriend. They move onto the rez and start growing weed, making meth and selling all kinds of drugs, like black tar heroin. Prescription pills like Oxycontin are especially popular. Tribal police can't arrest non–natives or follow drugs to their source off the reservation.

The dealers aren't all outsiders. But it's hard to send people to jail in a community where nearly everyone is somebody's cousin. The drug problem got so bad the Lummi turned to their treaty to find traditional tribal justice. Drug dealers became known as enemies of the people who could be banished from the Lummi Nation. Banishment means you lose all tribal rights. You can't even step onto the rez.

John Jefferson was a fisherman like his father. He also drank hard, like his dad. But the fishing went sour. The runs collapsed under the weight of industrial–scale harvesting. And John became a junkie who dealt crack to his own people, the Lummi. He served time in federal prison. The tribe moved to banish him. John said it was like losing his soul.

Jefferson: "The worst thing that would ever happen to me in my life was to be banished from the rez, and not to have my fishing rights, or to be able to get my health benefits, or not live on the reservation.""

Get the Story:
Addicted On The Rez (KUOW 6/18)