Chippewa Tribe Seeks to Curb Drug Epidemic By Testing at North Dakota Community College
Officials of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa are taking steps to address what they say is an epidemic drug problem on the northern North Dakota reservation.
The tribe has started random drug testing at Turtle Mountain Community College, and has taken steps to banish drug traffickers from the reservation.
“The reason we had to do it is to try to protect our people,” says tribal chairman Ken Davis. “It’s gotten to a point where we are having to take some very drastic measures.”
About one-third of tribal employees have been through initial drug testing, say officials. Sean LaFountain, coordinator of the Tribal Drug Testing Program, says he expects the initial testing to be completed by late spring or early summer. It will be followed by quarterly random tests of up to 25 percent of employees.
LaFountain is pushing to have other entities adopt the program to create a uniform drug-testing policy across the reservation. The tribe’s public utility, the Turtle Mountain Housing Authority has already joined the effort. Turtle Mountain Community Schools are preparing a program that would affect staff, administration and the school board.
“As a board, we have to take a stand,” says president Allan Malaterre. “We are doing it to protect our community and especially our kids.”
Last year, the school conducted random alcohol Breathalyzer tests among prom-goers and plans to do so again this year, Malaterre says. An after-prom party will provide a drug-free alternative for students.
The tribal council on April 5 also adopted an ordinance that enables the tribe to banish American Indians and non-Indians from the reservation for drug-related or other offenses.
Davis says banishment is a traditional tribal practice that has been permitted under the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa’s constitution since 1959. The council decided to activate its banishment power to remove drug traffickers, he says.
“They are coming here to our reservation; and even our own members are endangering our people through the selling of drugs,” Davis says.
The ordinance provides warning for a first offense, a three-year exclusion for a second offense and a lifetime banishment for a third.
It also allows for emergency exclusions of non-tribal members without a hearing. Davis says that gives the tribe the ability to banish people for offenses over which the tribe lacks jurisdiction, regardless of whether a non-tribal authority decides to prosecute.
The drug-testing program, developed with the aid of a California consultant, includes drug awareness and education efforts and also is designed to offer help to those who test positive, LaFountain says. People will be fired only on a second offense.
“[Drug use] is a major concern of the people in the community, to try to get people to turn away from this,” he says.
— Associated Press
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