The Ihanktowan Youth Council was founded as a direct result of students of the Yankton Sioux Tribe who wanted to support each other as their community works to survive the meth epidemic. Photo by Jodi Zephier

Native Sun News Today: Native youth take a stand against methamphetamine

It’s the Meth – stupid!

Awareness walk in Sioux Falls on Saturday
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

SIOUX FALLS – As the state of South Dakota continues to develop its anti-meth efforts, a meth awareness walk in Sioux Falls will bring together service providers, meth addicts, law enforcement, city leaders and youth for a discussion on methamphetamine.

The Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk – Sioux Falls event is scheduled for Saturday, April 21 from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and will take place in the Pettigrew Heights neighborhood; an area with high crime rates, addiction, poverty and a large Native American population.

This awareness walk is a follow-up to the Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk – Rapid City even which took place in the east river town in July, 2017. This grassroots movement is organized, sponsored and supported by concerned citizens who want to make a stand against meth and create dialogue which will foster change and bring more treatment centers to South Dakota.

Meth is an indiscriminate drug which affects all communities in the state; from rural reservations with inadequate law enforcement services to the urban areas with drug task forces combatting the meth trade on a daily basis. Meth has made a home in South Dakota and meth is here to stay for a long while.

In March 2018, Attorney General, Marty Jackley had his legislation to combat meth and opioids signed into law. Senate Bill 63 increased penalties for distribution and manufacturing meth, provided mandatory state penitentiary sentences for distribution of meth and opioids. Senate Bill 65 enhanced penalties for persons who distribute and manufacture controlled substances when a person dies from the substance.

“This legislation will give our men and women in law enforcement the tools they need to protect our communities…” said Jackley in a press release.

The Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk – Sioux Falls even hopes to create dialogue and bring together anti-meth campaigns and services for the east river city. Image by Richie Richards

The Sioux Falls walk happening this weekend has been supported by Sioux Falls City Council Northeast District member, Pat Starr, who admits his own family has been dealing with meth addiction.

“About three years ago, my nephew overdosed with meth and opioids. It’s had a direct effect on our family. We look back at what we could have done. Part of it is, we didn’t talk about it as a family,” said Starr. Part of why meth is able to live amongst the communities is the reluctance of family members to confront the problem and the fear of having loved ones incarcerated for long periods.

There is a shame and a stigma attached to meth addiction. Many families choose not to deal with it or deny it is occurring in their own families as meth is associated with poverty, minorities, lower social classes, and criminals. The reality is, meth is non-discriminate and studies confirm meth recovery takes over a year just to detox from.

Pat Starr has posed the question to medical providers of what can be done about the meth epidemic in South Dakota and a common response is ‘I don’t know’. “That’s where the conversation ends,” said the Council Member. “We had a joint meeting with the Rapid City city leaders. They had a young lady there that was 15 years old get up and say, ‘My friend is using meth. How do I get her help?’ There was a whole room full of community leaders and nobody knew what to do.”

As a Sioux Falls parent, council member and concerned citizen, Starr is without answers himself. “What do we do? We have to have a better answer than just calling the police. We need to have more treatment available,” he said.

As a council member, Starr has been on ride-alongs with the Sioux Falls Police Department. He credits the SFPD for doing their part in the anti-meth efforts. “They are trying to do seizures, but from a Council perspective, we’re trying to do prevention. The Attorney General was in a couple of weeks ago and spoke to us, but to be quite honest, I think everyone is just throwing their hands up and asking what do we need to be doing,” said the city council member. “We’re looking for that leadership. Again, none of us know exactly what to do.”


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As part of the Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk – Sioux Falls event, the Yankton Sioux Tribe including the Boys and Girls Club and Marty Indian School is heavily involved in the walk. This east river reservation has not escaped the devastation of meth.

Unit Director at Boys and Girls Club on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, Jodi Zephier, has been actively involved in the anti-meth campaign in her community. “It’s really an epidemic. It affects every single family. It’s bad here,” she said.

In response to the meth problem happening on her reservation, Zephier formed the Ihanktowan Youth Council, which is sanctioned and sponsored by the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

That’s why I started that group (Ihanktowan Youth Council). From working at the Boys and Girls Club in Marty, I’ve seen how meth came to Marty. It’s one of the last communities (reservations in South Dakota) to be hit by it. In 2014, that fall semester the kids, the smaller kids, you could just see the effects on their faces every day,” she said of meth making its presence in the schools and youth program.

Despite having Narcotics Anonymous meetings and a tribal treatment facility, Zephier says it’s an uphill battle with minimal support from tribal, state and federal officials. “We had a town hall meeting. We’ve had lots of meetings. We talk about it, but we need more resources to fight against it,” she said.

The argument of incarceration versus rehabilitation is a major conversation held by stakeholders in the statewide efforts. Although the meth fight is in its infancy stages in South Dakota, addiction is many decades old in rural and urban communities across the state.

Zephier said, “It’s not where we want to lock everyone up; all the users. We need to strengthen our tribal police, our tribal courts and maybe develop some type of joint task force. We have meetings, but it just goes on the back burner. We need to develop something where we stay on it.”

Part of the meth epidemic is the damage it does to the family dynamics. Neglect of children is a common occurrence. Users often neglect their homes and themselves during active use. There is a generation of children raising children on and off the reservations. “Kids are having to be the parent. Kids are going without. I started the group (Ihanktowan Youth Council) for the teens because I wanted something for them. I just didn’t want any of them to start doing it (meth),’ said Zephier.

The Boys and Girls Club Unit Director is proud of the services and programs she’s able to provide to the youth of her tribe. “Now, we have Meth Smart and Smart Moves for the tweens, beginning at age 9. It’s not just for kids whose parents or grandma uses meth, its kids who don’t want meth on our reservation. They don’t want it here,” she said.

Over the past couple of years, Zephier has activated her community on a grassroots level. She has been involved in bringing awareness, education, and attention to the meth epidemic on the Yankton Sioux Tribe. She visits inmates in the prisons to discuss meth and its effects on the youth.

‘We do role playing, talking circles and group work. We always have a youth led prayer and they sing,” she said.

The Ihanktowan Youth Council will be in Sioux Falls to present, pray and sing songs in Dakota to honor those working to better their communities. “Marty Indian School is coming with all the dorm kids and their staff. The Boys and Girls Club, Marty Unit. We’re all coming up there to Sioux Falls this weekend for the walk,” said Zephier.

The Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk – Sioux Falls event has been supported and sponsored by nearly 30 organizations and staff members. Mothers Against Meth Alliance, Tallgrass Recovery, First United Methodist Church, Sioux Falls Police Department, City of Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls Labor Temple, 9LittleGirls, Phade Productions, South Dakota Urban Indian Health, Piya Wicoicaga Luta, Crystal Solutions, Yankton Sioux Tribe are just a few of those who will be in attendance.

Also, the LDN (Lakota Dakota Nakota) Spiritual Council at the Jameson Annex and Native American Council of Tribes in The Hill, both part of the South Dakota Department of Corrections state prison system have provided eagle feather staffs for the walk. These walks will be a symbolic representation of the inmates in these prisons.

The event will begin with sign making and socializing at 11 a.m. at the Sioux Falls Labor Temple at 101 S. Fairfax Ave in Sioux Falls with speakers and performers. The walk will begin at the First United Methodist Church on 401 S. Spring Ave. There will be four stops along the walk to honor children, lost loved ones, and the community of Pettigrew Heights.

“Awareness is the first step to defining the problem and finding a solution. We talk about meth use, but we need to spend more time understanding it and how many people it affects. It’s so important to be able to talk about it,” closed Pat Starr.

For more information, visit the event page for the Meth Awareness Four Directions Walk - Sioux Falls on Facebook.

Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards at

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