By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We live on some of the most beautiful lands in the world. For many years, they remained mostly untouched by most human hands. We took only what we needed for self and family, always thankful to the Creator for letting us use the land and the bounty He provided. Excess was not a way of life for the early Cherokee, everything taken was consumed fully. If an animal was killed, it was appreciated for its sacrifice. Hide, meat, entrails, and even the bones were used in some way by early Cherokee people. Nothing was taken for granted. We had respect for the land and those in our community. We raised our children to have that same respect.
Western influence has changed all that for many of us. Our sense of being Cherokee has been tainted by years of assimilation, some of which came by force and some by the lure of living a life of exorbitance. More money, power, and influence became the way of life. Taking what we needed was no longer enough and we were driven by getting what we want.
When the casino opened in the late 1990’s, many within the community and without, predicted that western North Carolina would become a haven for organized crime, bringing drugs, prostitution, and organized crime into our community. Most of those prediction, after two decades in operation, have proven to be unfounded or exaggerated. Gambling in and of itself did not do these things.
The incredible amount of money flowing into the community did have some impacts, both good and bad. Because of that income, we have better education and health care.
Because we acquired substantial income in such a quick fashion, our Tribe was unprepared for the consequences of an infusion of large sums of money into a small population.
One of those consequences was a substantial increase in the buying and selling of narcotics on the Boundary. Yes, opioid trafficking and addiction is at epidemic proportions across the country, but even outside our mountains, the drug trade is fueled by readily available cash or a high rate of burglaries/robberies. We have talked before about the causes of drug addiction and the Tribe’s efforts to curb use and rehabilitate users. Unfortunately, this addiction is an illness that leads to criminal behavior.
Just as unfortunate is the amount of catching up that we must do to combat the ever-growing tide of drug trafficking being seen in our neighborhood. It is a daily occurrence for places like the Visitors’ Centers to identify suspected drug transactions going on in their parking lots, on their porches, and in their public bathrooms. Unattended public bathrooms have become “stash” points for drug dealers to drop off drugs for pick up.
It is running gossip in our community that you can go to our grocery store on any given day and witness a drug deal in their parking lot. Dealers hang out pairs of shoes over power lines or post some graffiti like doctors hang a shingle in front of their office to let people know that they are open for business, right here on the Boundary. Our police force tries to keep up with the rising tide of street crime in Cherokee, but they can’t be everywhere, all the time, and, even though these drug deals are going down in a small community, there are plenty of places to hide. When the police stake out one area, the dealers simply move to another to do business until the police move on to the next location.
Our police reports and court dockets are filled with drug crimes or domestic violence, vandalism, theft, and other crimes precipitated by drug use. Young Cherokee men and women are being carried out of fast food restaurants, homes, and parking lots on stretchers after having overdosed. Some, due to fast thinking first responders and EMS workers, live to see another day and the potential for getting help for their addiction. Others are not so lucky. You find those in the obituary column on a much too frequent level.
People, our people, are being hurt. Some are being hurt by strangers. Others are being hurt by the ones they love. Some are facilitating a disastrous and dangerous habit for the sake of love. But, there is no love in allowing someone to continue to destroy themselves or others. There is no upside to feeding a drug habit.
Rehabilitation efforts must be strictly-monitored and measured for success. Just because you build a center doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. Recidivism rates are substantial even in the best of rehab facilities.
Our local law enforcement must be given the tools, manpower, and education to keep drug dealers off the Qualla Boundary. Make it easier for them to patrol suspected drug activity areas. Criminals hate lights and cameras. Surveillance at our Visitor Centers and outside our public restroom facilities should be a priority of our government. Drug dealers stay here because we make it easy for them to stay here.
The government is making efforts to address these needs and that is commendable. But, if we are going to make a dent in the drug trade on our lands, it is going to take more than lip service and special interest committees. It will require action.
And, maybe it is time that we come together and discuss what it really means to be Cherokee. For all the talk, many of us do not look like our ancestors in thought and action. Back in the day, street crime was something shamefully done to us, not something we did.