Hoopa Talks Drugs and Tough Topics at Crowded Community Meeting

By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune

More than 100 people gathered in Hoopa last week to share tears, frustration and ideas for solving the community’s drug problem.

For Boyd Ferris, recovery relies on personal drive and support from the community.

“There is a lot of good recovery in this valley,” Ferris said. “I see it going. I see it moving. We just need to come together as a community.”

That’s exactly what the Klamath Trinity Anti-Drug Coalition (KTAC) set out to do a little more than two years ago when the group organized, desperate to combat meth, heroin, alcohol and prescription drug abuse. They meet faithfully every month, with only a handful of regulars who attend.

This meeting was different. It was their quarterly meeting and heavily promoted with a flyer bearing the words “Are you fed up with drugs in our communities?” bolded and in large print. The organizers, led by Lola “Kadoo” Henry, sent individual invitations to the Humboldt County District Attorney, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the Humboldt County Drug Task Force and just about every other law enforcement or social service outfit in Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties. Most of them showed up, even politicos seeking election in upcoming County and Tribal elections.

“We need to look at ways to get to the root of the problem. What’s putting our people in the system? The system is broken,” Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman, Danielle Vigil-Masten said in her introductory remarks. “…It has become the norm to think it’s okay to break the law. But in our culture, there was no part for it. It never existed. There is no place in our basket for it. It all comes down to choices. For every choice there is a consequence.”

Vigil-Masten talked about rebuilding trust in the community as well as rebuilding downtown Hoopa to display a deeper sense of pride in the community.

Hoopa Tribal member, Leo Carpenter said he spent three days on his bicycle or in his car talking to people downtown.

As he gestured his arm to one side of the room he said, “You have this group over here smoking pot.” He switched arms, “And you have this group over here drinking their alcohol. They have their own issues with each other and with downtown renovation plans. So when w plan our downtown, we need to remember what we’re planning for; the drug problem? The mental health issue?”

Carpenter said he lost a niece to a heroin overdose.

“We need to get the ones out that sell heroin and meth to our own people,” he said. “We need to get Bobby out [This comment was later disputed]. Do we need to get the feds in? Maybe we do. We have the highest alcohol sales in Humboldt County. That’s our claim to fame?”

Carpenter sat down as the audience erupted with applause.

Bob Kane is the Chief of Hoopa Valley Tribal Police. He said a lot is happening outside of the reservation that poses several challenges to how they address certain situations. New laws like realignment are keeping non-violent offenders in county jail, rather than sending them to prison, posing overcrowding issues for local jails.

“I have to call and ask if I can bring someone to jail,” Kane said. “And usually it’s overcrowded, so, much of the time we’re limited to writing notices to appear in court.”

The head of Humboldt County Probation, William Damiano confirmed that since realignment, the jail has been at 94-95 percent capacity.

And, Kane said he simply doesn’t have the manpower to conduct drug investigations.

“I’m losing another officer this Friday,” he said. “We can’t just turn our backs on this. I’m hoping this group can come together and figure this out.”

Kane encouraged the audience to call the Humboldt County Drug Task Force if they have information on drug activity.

“Your information may be just enough. It may be just what they need,” he said.

Councilwoman, Wendy “Poppy” George outlined a long list of plans she is working on to help combat the visible drug and alcohol problem downtown; remove old cars, repair fencing, remove hiding areas and improve the appearance of areas used to congregate and adding lighting and surveillance systems.

“Not only do we have the highest alcohol sales, but we also have the highest number of prescription pain medication coming out of our pharmacy,” George said. “In 2006 the Hoopa Tribal Council said enough and passed a motion to stop prescribing oxycontin at K’ima:w Medical Center. We’re working now to get a number of how many people here are prescribed pain medication. We’re going to evaluate those numbers to see if we’re prescribing for the right kinds of issues.”

The meeting continued until 10:30 pm, with back to back testimony about the problem and pieces of the solution puzzle were offered up from Humboldt County District Attorney, Paul Gallegos, Fifth District Supervisor, Ryan Sundberg and members of the community.

With renewed committment, the group intends to coordinate another meeting to continue the dialog. The next KTAC meeting is scheduled for March 4, 2014 from 6-8 pm.

“We want to take back this community,” Vigil-Masten said. “We don’t have to live a lifestyle of abuse, neglect and sexual assault. It’s time to heal as people and give our problems to the creator; get all the evil  out and take back our community.”

The next day, at the regularly scheduled Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, members passed a resolution that proclaims zero tolerance for heroin, meth and prescription drug sales.

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