Brandon Ecoffey: Taking a hard look at addiction in Indian Country

Brandon Ecoffey

A note from the editor’s desk
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

The willingness of our people to stand on top of our sovereign rights has cleared the pathway for many other Indigenous peoples in America to capitalize and improve the status of assert their own nations. One of these watershed moments may be approaching as the Oglala Sioux Tribal council will soon decide if they want to poll the Oglala on their interest in marijuana legalization.

As a journalist who has focused a significant amount of both personal and professional time gaining an understanding of the Drug War, I have come to realize that the single most important aspect of this conversation has been looked at wrong since its inception. In order to properly have a conversation about legalization we as a society need to take a hard look at our addictions.

Just a couple weeks ago study a scientific study published in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that Native Americans are more likely than whites to abstain from alcohol altogether, and that rates of heavy and binge drinking were comparable. The stereotype that we are biologically predetermined to abuse alcohol is not based in science but long held racist assumptions about the capacity of our people.

Would it be startling to hear that the likely cause of our people’s high rates of addiction go far beyond a self-caused physical addiction to a chemical? As someone who was forced to come to terms with the roots of my own addictions, I feel that I have logged enough time, both in recovery and in study, to provide some insight on why so many of us have fallen prey to drugs or alcohol at some point in our life.

Over the course of the past year I was able to read the ground breaking book Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. The book outlines the latest innovations and breakthroughs in the world of substance-abuse treatment. Much of what is included in the book can be paralleled to the current state of affairs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

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Recent findings outlined by Hari include the realization that the likelihood of a drug user developing an addiction powerful enough to ruin one’s life is dramatically increased by the existence of trauma in that person’s life. For our people trauma is ingrained in to our DNA as a result of our resistance to attempts made to exterminate us and by the experiences we endured growing up on the reservation.

Now there are two ways to approach this assertion; one you could look at it and say that the high presence of trauma in tribal communities boosts the need for policies like drug prohibition, banishment, and incarceration; or we can say, unless we deal with the impact of our people’s current and historical trauma, no law will curb addiction rates.

It understandable that I might take a bit of heat for this column but even the most anti-drug advocate must admit that the hundreds of drug raids made by federal authorities in our communities have not curbed use rates or the availability of contraband. The recent meth epidemic is further example that this outdated model of policing banned substances simply doesn’t work and that it is time for a drastic new approach to curbing addiction in our communities by finding a way to heal from our shared trauma.

Of course there are pockets of hope all across our reservation but everything must be done to coddle and nurture these movements. To do this we need our people to be healthy and securing funding for this type of initiative will require a steady stream of funding. The economic and social implications of legalizing marijuana and/or hemp are monumental if accompanied by a new approach to community health.

Imagine if we used the profits from legalization to create a new economy based in healing. How many of our OLC graduates can we hire as drug counselors? How many of our families would feel more comfortable reaching out for help if it was there own people waiting with out stretched arms? How many of our people would put down their prescription painkillers and alcohol and opt for a safer alternative like marijuana to treat their ailments?

This debate cannot be oversimplified by those unwilling to see beyond the rhetoric.

(Brandon Ecoffey is the current editor of LCT and an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.)

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Brandon Ecoffey: Marijuana can boost economy on reservation (02/16)
Oglala Sioux Tribe might ask membership about legal marijuana (01/28)

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