Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tribal Drug Smugglers Face Exile

Canadian drug smuggling poses a problem for many tribes in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Mexican drug trafficking organizations orchestrate some of the smuggling, aided by Native gang members, many younger than 12. Planes full of marijuana touch town in isolated areas of Washington's Colville Reservation and Montana's Fort Peck Reservation, then take off again before tribal police can even approach the scene. The potent BC bud also finds its way across the border into the Blackfeet tribal lands.

Even more dangerous than planeloads of pot has been easy access to prescription drugs in Vancouver. Seattle area tribes are in a position to distribute potent painkillers like OxyContin all down the west coast. The 4000-member Lummi tribe has seen 33 tribal members convicted for drug smuggling.

Eugenia Phair, a Lummi member, was smuggling 1200 pills a day across the border by using her girlfriends in the tribe as mules, then making most of her deals in the tribe's busy casino. After a customer's toddler died from eating a pill off the floor, the tribal community decided to take action and vowed to banish dealers from the tribe. Now out of prison, she can no longer work for the tribe, live on tribal lands, or get assistance or housing.

John Jefferson (pictured, above) also learned the hard way about the Lummi's zero tolerance policies. When he couldn't make a living as a traditional fisherman, he turned to dealing drugs to support his growing drinking and drug habit. He returned from federal prison to learn he's no longer welcome among his tribe. Jefferson told a reporter that being banished was like losing his soul. "The worst thing that would ever happen to me in my life was to be banished from the rez, and not to have my fishing rights, or to be able to get my health benefits, or not live on the reservation."

In their determination to cleanse their community, Lummi tribal elders even burned one drug house, abandoned when its tenant went to prison. Recently, the Makah have tried this approach with a non-tribal member, a sex offender who was dealing oxycodone and also engaging in burglary and violent crimes.

Does banishment make a difference? The debate is raging, even among the Lummi and Makah. Supporters say that the people who got banished were spreading harm, and even some of the offenders admit the widespread destruction they caused among their friends and relatives. "My victims are the children whose parents were using the drugs I sold," admitted Phair. "I have more victims than anybody."