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North Dakota tribal leaders seek more money to battle meth 5-4-07

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota tribal leaders are seeking more federal money for law enforcement on American Indian reservations, in large part to deal with the growing problem of methamphetamine abuse.

Standing Rock Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder said his tribe is supposed to have 10 officers on patrol. However, at times only six officers have been assigned to the reservation that is roughly the size of Connecticut.

“We need three times the number of law enforcement officers,” His Horse Is Thunder said Friday at a conference at United Tribes Technical College organized by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

His Horse Is Thunder, Spirit Lake Nation Chairwoman Myra Pearson, Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Wells Jr. and Jim Baker, a councilman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, all spoke about how meth has ravaged their reservations.

Pearson said six babies were born with meth in their systems in one year on the Spirit Lake reservation. Baker said the drug has increased health problems on reservations.

“We have people dying at a younger age of heart attacks,” he said.

Carrie Azure, project director for the United Tribes Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse Task Force, said about 90 percent of the people who enter treatment programs on the Turtle Mountain Reservation do so because of meth.

His Horse Is Thunder said the proposed $16 million in the next federal budget for law enforcement and meth enforcement on reservations is “absolutely not enough.”

Dorgan, who is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, called the problem of meth in Indian communities a “crisis” that must be addressed by an enhanced partnership between federal and tribal governments and law enforcement officials.

“The stories of families and communities torn apart are just heartbreaking,” he said.

A bill introduced by Dorgan would make tribal governments and U.S. territories eligible for grant programs and federal funding for law enforcement and treatment programs.

Chris Chaney, the top law enforcement official in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said drug dealers and cartels are targeting Indian reservations across the country.

Bill Benjamin, director of the BIA regional office in Aberdeen, S.D., said the battle against meth needs to involve not only law enforcement but also medical and educational officials.

“I, too, have been told this is the worst epidemic, worst situation, since smallpox,” he said.
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