Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Source: Morning Sun (Mt. Pleasant, MI)
Copyright: 2014 Morning Sun
Author: Holly Mahaffey
Page: A1


Chief Steve Pego of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe declared war on 
substance abuse to an at-capacity audience at the Celebration of 
Healing, Recovery and Hope event last week at the Eagle's Nest Tribal 
Gym on the reservation.

In a historic move, Steve Pego signed a birch bark document of 
community standards declaring war, something he said the tribe hasn't 
done since 1763, during the Sept. 24 community meeting.

Steve Pego said troubling increases in car and home break-ins on the 
reservation in combination with a rise in heroin abuse led to tribal 
leaders meeting to discuss how to come together as a tribe to fight 
substance abuse.

What came out of the meeting was the Celebration of Healing event, 
which Pego said will be the first of many different fronts to combat 
drugs for its members.

During the event, the Tribal Observer reports Steve Pego as saying 
"Our community stood together as warriors ready to fight the good 
fight of stopping the pain that drugs and alcohol cause on the 
reservation for too many years."

The event brought together law enforcement members from the Saginaw 
Chippewa Tribal Police Department, the Isabella County Sheriff's 
Department, Michigan State Police and Central Michigan University 
Police in a further show of unity in fighting substance abuse together.

Steve Pego said he was moved by a warrior ceremony at the event that 
included local law enforcement taking part in ceremonial and symbolic 
showings of unity and protection.

"It was nice to see they got it," said Frank Coultier, public 
relations director for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. "When it 
comes down to it, we are very good at taking care of each other - we 
just have to remember that."

A declaration of war

"I'm affected by it with my son," said Steve Pego. "It's time for all 
of us to stand together to fight this disease."

Steve Pego said his brother, Robert Pego, was instrumental in 
organizing the first community event to address the problem, and will 
solicit idea from the community on future meetings and projects, as 
well as continue strategic meetings.

"We always come together as a small community," said Steve Pego. 
"It's mostly for the love of our children - we don't want any more deaths."

"Wewant a healthy tribe and we want a healthy future for our 
grandchildren," Steve Pego said. "I'm proud sitting as a chief to 
sign that declaration."

"One of the things we have is the support of our grandmothers," said 
Robert Pego. He said the Indian Child Welfare Committee at the 
reservation happens to be comprised entirely of grandmothers who 
"pretty much see it firsthand-they see it, and see it as a problem."

Heroin use on the rise

Law enforcement and communities working together are a theme of the 
message the tribe is trying to convey, as rising heroin and opiate 
use is not just a problem on the reservation.

The AP reports that heroin overdose deaths in Michigan increased from 
271 from the four-year period of 1999-2002 to 728 from 2010-2012, and 
that admissions to publicly funded programs for heroin treatment 
nearly doubled from 7,300 in 2000 to about 13,600 in 2013.

The Morning Sun has reported on escalating heroin-related deaths and 
crimes in Gratiot County over the past year, indicating that the 
tribe is not alone in facing drug abuse issues in mid-Michigan

The Detroit Free Press reported in April 2014 that heroin is a 
"significant" public health problem in Michigan, according to Angela 
Minicuci, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Health. 
According to the department, heroin abuse can result in fatal 
overdoses, infections of the heart lining and valves, liver and 
kidney disease and pulmonary issues related to pneumonia. Those who 
inject heroin are at high risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C, 
Michigan health officials said.

Healthy trees, sick forests

Steve Pego referred to a quote from White Bison, an American Indian 
nonprofit charitable organization that offers healing resources to 
Native Americans.

In "The Wellbriety Journey: Nine Talks by Don Coyhis" Stevo Pego 
likened this passage to the struggle his community is facing healing 
members suffering from substance abuse:

"Imagine it as a dysfunctional forest, like a sick community. The 
elders often use nature to explain things. They say if you take one 
of those sick trees out of the forest and take it down the road to a 
nursery and nurse the tree until it is well, and if you then bring 
that healthy tree back to the sick forest, then what will happen to 
that well tree? It will get sick again. In fact, if you are a well 
tree in a sick forest, the sick trees will try to convince you, the 
well tree, that you are the sick one. You will appear to be the 
outsider," reads the passage.

The passage from The Wellbriety Journey continues as saying: "Let's 
take the idea of a sick forest and relate it to Native communities. 
If you describe the sickness a little deeper you'll see that some of 
those trees are alcoholic trees, and some trees are married to them. 
There will also be codependent trees, sexual abuser trees, those who 
are abused, the abusee trees, and all the other dysfunctional 
behaviors we see today. If that's the way our forests look, the 
elders have said you really need to look underground or in the 
"unseen world" in order to find solutions."

"So that's the thing here," said Steve Pego. "We have to heal the forest."

A gratifying unity

Robert Pego said seeing the different religions practiced by tribal 
members coming together has given a "spirit of unity" to the Tribe's 
declaration of war on substance abuse.

"It's a page from the history from our brothers," Robert Pego said. 
"We can't fight the battle alone."

Stemming from the meeting has been more instances of "tattletelling," 
which is what tribal leaders want to see happen more frequently in 
the community when someone notices a problem with a fellow tribal member.

"It's a gratifying sense of unity. Since the meeting a lot of people 
have been reporting incidents," said Steve Pego. He also said that 
"Facebook has changed everything" as far as tribal community members 
becoming more vocal about crime and substance abuse in threads on the 
social media site.

Neighborhood Watch programs, in place again for the first time as 
long as tribal leaders can remember, are one of the starting points 
the tribe is getting in place to help community members look out for 
each other.

Accountability is another goal of the tribe. "We are working on 
resources to aid and assist," said Cloutier. "Anything we do now is 
more aggressive (than in the past).

"People will be held accountable," Cloutier said. "There are not a 
lot willing to be held accountable."

Cloutier spoke of a young tribal member who said the first time she 
smoked marijuana was with her cousins, and that friends and family 
have to be aware of the implications of exposing community members to 
drugs and alcohol.

"It's easy to teach, and easy to corrupt," Cloutier said. "We have to 
make sure we know the difference."

"We can lick this problem," said Steve Pego. "We can slowly heal the 

The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police tip line in place for community 
members to report problems is 989-775-4775, and future meetings and 
events will be announced by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.
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