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We Are A Part Of The Problem

September 13, 2010

A recent headline at ABCMontana.com explains that the Crow Tribe leadership is calling for the ouster of their local Indian Health Service Hospital administrator over a drug conviction that occurred 27 years ago. His crime? He abused the prescription drug Demerol, and passed some of it to a girlfriend. He was convicted of a felony, and surrendered his license to practice medicine.

The United States has some of the most harsh drug laws in the country. We make felons out of people who have problems that are resolvable, and those convictions follow them for the rest of their lives. As I have mentioned before in this blog, we lash out instead of help. We stigmatize behaviors so much that it becomes easier to try to hide your problem instead of seek help for them. And we of course deny that we have problems. We don’t understand the source of many of our risky behaviors.

That American Indians would be punitive towards someone who has had a problem with drugs, was dealt with incredibly harshly but paid for that behavior and apparently resolved those behaviors is puzzling to me. Of all people, we should be more empathetic. Here is what I found about the status of the prison population in Montana.[i]

“In Montana, though only 6.8 percent of residents are Native, they are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women prisoners. Still more worrisome is the fact that in the last decade, the general prison population there less than doubled, but total numbers of Indian women went up from 17 to 81, an increase of 376 percent.”

Our Native prisoners are stigmatized for life. Barrier crimes legislation on both the state and federal levels eliminate certain opportunities for employment. Racial screens make it fairly certain that regular employment opportunities are not available for them. And it is patently obvious from the low historical levels of Indian Health Service funding for behavioral health services that the problems that help put American Indians/Alaska Natives into the prison population are not being resolved. At least the Hospital Administrator appears to have resolved his earlier behavioral issues and moved to a helping position as a professional.

I would hope that the problems we face could help us with greater empathy for others, and help us eliminate blaming and shaming individuals who have paid for their issues, and addressed and resolved those issues. My dream for our Alaska Native people is that we can find answers to the myriad personal issues that we face, resolve them, and not continue to be stigmatized for those behaviors that are in our past. Unless we, as a whole, can learn forgiveness for those who have changed, I don’t see much hope of convincing society as a whole to do the same for us.


[i] http://www.lenapeprograms.info/Articles/Prison.htm

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