TUESDAY TOPIC: Dire need exists for local detoxification center

September 25, 2018


For 20 years I was privileged to be one of the chief architects of the efforts to stop the illegal flow of alcohol from Whiteclay, Nebraska, onto the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was a place where 3.5 million cans of beer were sold in an unincorporated village of 12 to Lakota people who had no legal place to drink it. On Sept. 29, 2017, the Nebraska Supreme Court acted to uphold a decision of state’s Liquor Control Commission and sales stopped. It will be seen as a great civil and human rights win for Lakota people.

Since then I have heard from my own Winnebago people that if we can change the face of Indian country through our win at Whiteclay, then we ought to be able to do something for our own people here. I agree, and I will help us to heal starting right now.

Healing begins when the talk of healing begins. It begins when those who can help to heal step up and those who are in need of healing respond. That is the long and short of where we are at in the Siouxland community as we collectively address the need to expand detox services to Native and non-Native community members who suffer from alcohol and drug abuse.

There is a need, a dire need to act now.

As I call for this immediate and critical need, let me preface my appeal by acknowledging those agencies who toil in the public, private and even tribal trust and who daily try to meet the needs we prioritize. They have done what has been outlined for them in scores of procedure manuals and a handful of protocol guides and updates. But, they have fallen short in trying to get to those who stand on the bridges and overpasses to panhandle and walk aimlessly through Sioux City streets and alleys as you read this missive. That must change and when it does so will the policies and practices that stand in the way of our reaching out to connect with those who need help and healing.

I have come to know in my work in trying to give voice to those who have none that nothing changes unless someone is made to feel uncomfortable and that nothing changes unless we make ourselves comfortable. The time has come for all in Siouxland to understand this and to come out of our protective silos to start working together. I have said many times that if we were to gather all those who work in the public, private and tribal trust whose job it is to connect with that man with a sign on the bridge that we would not be able to fit them all in the City Council chambers.

I have heard about a “continuum of care” concept that has been talked of for years in our community, but I do not know how successful it has been. We should examine that notion and strive to realize it every day. It says that perhaps we can connect with that homeless and addicted man or woman wandering the street or sleeping where they can and get them into a detox facility (that we really don’t yet have). We should then get them into a treatment center after detox and then into a halfway house immediately after treatment. Then we should find them a place to live and even get them a job and maybe a future. Might even save money and balance strapped budgets. What a novel idea. Success with this model is the exception rather than the rule I would opine, but if all were required to come out of their silos that possibility could become reality.

There is so much that needs to be done. Three years ago, members of the Winnebago Tribal Council, the Siouxland Human Investment Partnership (SHIP) and myself traveled to Rapid City to meet with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to talk of the addiction and detox we reference and to ask for help.

On June 1 of this year, a large gathering facilitated by the Four Directions Center and hosted by SHIP at the Ho-Chunk Center met with Congressman Steve King and IHS. Things have been happening and I take pride in knowing that all are coming together to do the most with the least. We need a detox facility.

Do Siouxlanders see the immediate need? I do not have another 20 years to find out. Neither do the addicted.

A social and political activist for American Indian issues, Frank LaMere lives in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

Editor’s note: Tuesday Topic is a weekly Opinion page feature. Each Tuesday in this space, one local, regional or state writer will discuss an issue in the news. If you have an idea for a Tuesday Topic, please contact Editorial Page Editor Michael Gors at 712-293-4223 or mike.gors@lee.net.

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