HON DAH — New members of the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council members pledged support to adjusting tribal laws to accommodate drug issues on the Fort Apache Reservation. New member Jerold Altaha said he supports efforts to bring justice, to adjust the tribal court system for the betterment of the people and to sustain and support a healthy Apache Nation.
White Mountain Apache Housing Authority employees recently launched a Meth Awareness Team in response to a high rate of meth contamination among the 1,300 housing units it maintains across the reservation. Staff noted that of 86 houses tested for drug contamination, 64 tested positive for methamphetamines and other drugs, according to Jeremiah Kessay, WMAHA security supervisor.
Increasingly, staff became alarmed about the dangers not only to themselves in cleaning up contaminated homes, but for the frequency of occurrence and the welfare of those residing in the contaminated environment as well as their extended family and community.
WMAHA held its second Meth Awareness community meeting at Hon-Dah Resort on April 27, with 64 community members and leaders in attendance. Lisa Perry, assistant housing occupancy counselor manager, and Suzie Tenijieth, resident service coordinator, set out the team’s goals: networking with law enforcement, seeking funding, additional drug education training, harsher consequences for offenders, reviving Neighborhood Watch, educating the community on the dangers of meth, centralizing data collection, seeking confiscated drug money to clean up contaminated housing and brainstorming with other regional housing authorities for solutions.
Recently appointed Tribal Police Chief Tim Webster said that all of the communities must get behind this effort.
“All the communities have to get behind the police to take care of the issue … to make a difference. There has to be tough love and accountability,” he said.
Tribal Councilman Arnold Beach agreed. “We’ve toughened laws and strengthened the criminal code. We’ve added laws to incarcerate drug-dealers longer and made higher fines, but things still fall through the cracks. Is it probation, detention, the courts, the executive branch? We need to talk about that. Are we at fault as tribal leaders? Are we to blame?”
Hon-Dah Human Resource Director Erwin Thompson said the WMAT Constitution is good, “but things have changed over generations. We have to make that transition with our people. We seem to say a lot without acting. Our children can’t continue to run our lives. We have to stop waiting for someone else to do something.” He suggested a think-tank for ideas to send to the council.
“Article 8 of our Constitution gives you the right, the authority—it gives power back to the people to enact our own ordinances that the council must pass,” Altaha said. “We can strengthen our Constitution by using this. Hold us (Tribal Council) accountable as much as we hold you accountable.” Other incoming council members attending were Ralph Thomas and Everett Massey.
WMAHA Director Victor Velazquez said, he wants the council to support—by resolution— and address this issue. “All of these good ideas—but they are good for six months then everyone gets busy with something else. Yet, our kids still are impacted.”
Meth Awareness Team Captain and WMAHA Maintenance Supervisor Sheila Pope, called for tribal and federal laws to back up the team’s efforts. “How do we approach our youth and elders? We need guidance and funds to clean up our housing. How do we continue without a juvenile detention center?” Pope asked.
“Government funds are being spent on drug burials, overdoses and suicides when that money could be used to build a juvenile detention center and to bring more doctors to the community. Can’t we cross deputize (with area law enforcement) to catch meth dealers? Is drug awareness enough? What can the tribal council do to assist with these issues?” Pope implored.
Twila Cassadore of Mothers Against Meth from San Carlos was a guest speaker at the meeting. She likened the Apache culture to dying acorn trees.
“They were healthy and dropped acorns and grew. Like our culture, now they are half dead now from global warming, pesticide and chemicals. This represents our children losing their culture, it represents drug and alcohol abuse,” she said.
“Without language, song, ceremony, food and prayer—who will remember what happened before the reservations—without our culture. By not enforcing laws and teaching culture, we are smashing our youth.”
She recommended incorporating culture into solutions for today’s problems. “Heal problems with traditions that have worked for centuries,” she recommended.
She asked attendees to pledge to find a “real solution” for drug- and alcohol-free Apache communities by 2020.
The message from the newly formed WMAHA Meth Awareness Team: “Enough is enough. Cease the opportunity before we lose the opportunity.”