By Brett Larson Inaajimowin Staff Writer
Photos by Mikayla Schaaf Mille Lacs Band Member
An anti-drug gathering at Grand Market on Thursday, Oct. 5, turned into a series of demonstrations at suspected “drug houses,” where Band members sang, drummed and offered tobacco to persuade dealers to either quit selling drugs or leave the reservation.
Over the following week a group of community members calling themselves “Protectors Not Protesters” planned additional activities and met to discuss the best ways to address the drug crisis in the community.
The “Percap Patrol” was designed to discourage drug sales in the parking lot of Grand Market because drug sales are common in the area on the day per capita payments are distributed.
It was reported that several people overdosed on the morning of the gathering, including one in the Grand Market parking lot.
Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and District I Rep. Sandi Blake both showed up at the beginning of the event and offered their support and encouragement. Also in attendance, along with about 40 Band members, were members of the group Natives Against Heroin from the Twin Cities.
Early in the day, two women in the group interrupted what they believed was a drug sale, prompting organizers to call the event a success, since averting a single sale could save a life.
After a pipe ceremony in the parking lot by Terry Kemper, some of those present decided to drive to the home of a suspected drug dealer on Virgo Road, and from there the caravan visited other suspected dealers’ residences on Ojibwe Drive, Bugg Hill and Atooban Drive.
Outside the first home, the group brought out a drum, sang a healing song and offered tobacco.
James Cross of Natives Against Heroin spoke through a mega- phone asking any dealers in the homes to give up selling drugs, leading the crowd in chanting “Shut it down! Shut it down!”
“We care about you,” James said. “We know it’s an addiction that is causing you to do this. We love you, but we don’t like what you’re doing.”
At some homes, Band members addressed the residents directly by name, accusing them of pushing drugs on children, resulting in addiction and death.
One woman spoke to her sister through the megaphone: “Please look around you. Look at the kids! Enough is enough. We’re here to help you. ... Look out your window and see how many people are out here trying to help you. We love you. That’s why we’re here.”
Several of the participants and other District I Band members met on Oct. 10 at the community center to consider creating a local chapter of Natives Against Heroin. Some of those present at the percap event had become uncomfortable with the confrontational approach of Natives Against Heroin, and they wanted to make certain they could go their own direction if they align with the group.
Consensus was that smudge walks should continue, but using a megaphone to directly call out suspected dealers or users should not.
District I Rep. Sandi Blake recommended that the group stick to positive messages of hope, help and healing.
Mick Davis said he liked the slogan, “We’re not protesting, we’re protecting.”
Bob Eagle talked about a poster contest he had organized on Facebook, reporting that $400 had been pledged for prizes and that Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin had agreed to use the State of the Band address to promote the contest and/or winners. “That is the biggest platform we have as Band members,” Bob said.
Kim Sam informed the group that the Public Health Department had also sponsored a poster contest, and the winners were in the hands of Steve Premo to create posters to be handed out at State of the Band and sent home to households.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Rebecca St. Germaine talked about developments at Four Winds, the treatment center in Brainerd that the Band took over from the State this spring. She said the program is being revised with the help of Elders.
“We want to be respectful of our people,” she said. “The treatment at Four Winds is a cultural approach. It’s not just west- ern medicine where they give you more drugs or make you go through a 12-Step program. We’ve been up there so they know how to work with our people.”
From there the conversation turned to the importance of aftercare. Sandi said the Band is planning a family resource center for young women focusing on recovery and aftercare.
Luther Sam said he has been living at the halfway house. “It’s an amazing program,” he said. “Staff are amazing. I have nothing bad to say about it.” He said there are many opportunities available to Band members in recovery — even those with felonies.
Bradley Harrington agreed, telling his story about riding his bike to work until he could get his license back. “I just kept on applying myself and didn’t let that felony get in my way,” he said. “It is unbelievable the assistance we get from the tribe.”
Kim said the Band can do more to help those in recovery to transition out of the halfway house, including peer recovery coaches and a recovery section of the community where people can feel safe together and recover together.
Commissioner of Community Development Percy Benjamin said there are plans in the works for Band members to transition from the Minobimaadiziwin Hotel to a loop of eight transitional units with a zero-tolerance policy.
Sandi said, “These positive stories need to be put out there for the community.”
Bob said, “That’s what this group is about. We want to bring people up. I haven’t been an angel myself. It’s best to be positive. If we spend one moment in the darkness, it can really crush an entire group.”
The “Protectors Not Protesters” group joined in the Walk for Family Peace on Oct. 16 and held another meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 25, after this issue of Ojibwe Inaajimowin went to press.
See next month’s paper or millelacsband.com for updates, and see page 9 for more on the initial meeting.
Protectors Not Protesters Meeting — Initial Meeting Notes
Mikayla Schaaf Guest Writer
Members met Tuesday, Oct.10, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to discuss and determine next steps for new community actions concerning the drug epidemic that is plaguing the Mille Lacs Band Reservation, Band members and our community.
– Four Winds looking to suspend Rule 25 immediately for new native clients
– Request to write a formal statement to the community regarding the Percap Patrol event
– MLB Tribal Police tip line 320-630-2458
– Discussion about the possibility of declaring a “State of Emergency” for Mille Lacs Band
– Discussion about an initiative to petition out current county commissioner
– Develop a monthly sober/healing events calendar for community members
– Facebook page
– Success in Sobriety — sharing their positive stories
– Develop some curriculum or educational classes for community around drug use and opiate
– Create a support group for family members or loved ones who are addicts
Brainstorming session included:
Names or meaningful words:
– Protecting, Anishinaabe, Strength, Strong, Rebuilders, Unity, Modeling, Community, Healing, Warriors, Reclaiming and Indigenous
Goals or mission statement:
– Move forward in a positive way
– Be helpful and encouraging
– Meet with tribal police
– Protect our community members from drug dealers – Elder abuse awareness
– Take back our community
– Positive messaging in or around the community
– Let the community know we care and will not give up
– Find more volunteers (community service time for employees)
– Address the drug issue at the market and casino
Actions to take:
– Keep it positive through ceremonies, events and teachings – Spread the message through our events
– Post positive signs in our community
– Develop a resource book with a monthly newsletter about good things happening in the community or healing calendar events for our community – Keep “Percap Patrol” open
– Twice a month
– Open for emergency meetings
– Community Center
– Is the ceremonial building an option?
Who is in charge or will lead:
– Will address in the next meeting