Turtle Mountain tribe begins drug-testing
BELCOURT, N.D. - Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa officials are taking steps to try to address what they say is an epidemic drug problem on the northern North Dakota reservation.
The tribe has started random drug testing and has taken legal steps to banish drug traffickers from the reservation.
"The reason we had to do it is to try to protect our people," Tribal Chairman Ken Davis said. "It's gotten to a point where we are having to take some very drastic measures."
About one-third of tribal employees have been through initial drug testing. Sean LaFountain, coordinator of the Tribal Drug Testing Program, said he expects the initial testing to be completed by late spring or early summer. It will be followed by quarterly random tests of up to 25 percent of employees.
LaFountain is pushing to have other entities adopt the program to create a uniform drug-testing policy across the reservation. The tribe's public utility, the Turtle Mountain Housing Authority and Turtle Mountain Community College have already joined the effort. Turtle Mountain Community Schools is preparing a program that would affect staff, administration and the school board.
"As a board, we have to take a stand," said President Allan Malaterre. "We are doing it to protect our community and especially our kids."
Last year, the school conducted random alcohol Breathalyzer tests among prom-goers and plans to do so again this year, Malaterre said. An after-prom party will provide a drug-free alternative for students.
The Tribal Council on April 5 also adopted an ordinance that enables the tribe to banish American Indians and non-Indians for drug-related or other offenses.
Davis said banishment is a traditional tribal practice that has been permitted under the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa's constitution since 1959. The council decided to activate its banishment power to remove drug traffickers, he said.
"They are coming here to our reservation; and even our own members are endangering our people through the selling of drugs," Davis said.
The ordinance provides warning for a first offense, a three-year exclusion for a second offense and a lifetime banishment for a third.
It also allows for emergency exclusions of non-tribal members without a hearing. Davis said that gives the tribe the ability to banish people for offenses over which the tribe lacks jurisdiction, regardless of whether a non-tribal authority decides to prosecute.
The drug-testing program, developed with the aid of a California consultant, includes drug awareness and education efforts and also is designed to offer help to those who test positive, LaFountain said. People will be fired only on a second offense.
"(Drug use) is a major concern of the people in the community, to try to get people to turn away from this," LaFountain said.
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