By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We don’t always agree. You may say tomato or potato differently than I do. It’s ok. We don’t have to part ways because we disagree on the pronunciation of a vegetable, or possibly a fruit, or maybe a root. In fact, that we continue to have the debate over the disposition of these veggies is a sign that we have something in common, a passion for our edibles. In a weird sort of way, our differences spark engagement and communication, some things that we desperately need in our community.
Our Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) Department has been hard at work to address arguably the most significant health challenge to our community since the fight against diabetes in Indian Country began. The foe in this battle is in the minds of its victims and the sometimes precipitated by the those charged with their care and health. It is addiction to mind-altering drugs or chemical dependency. The PHHS has stepped up to the plate, taking on a challenge that the tribe desperately needs answers to and that is inherently controversial.
The stance of PHHS and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed’s administration, in my opinion, is that drug dependency is an illness. Their approach is to provide emotional support, medical treatment, and rehabilitation. The psychology of drug dependency is undeniable. There is also clinical evidence to support the idea that even short-term use of certain “pain-killers” begins to create a chemical dependency. There is no doubt in my mind that, based on what they know, they feel they are doing the very best they can for the addicts, for their families, and the community. There is not an end-all solution to the problem of rampant drug use, short of a societal overhaul; but God bless those, like PHHS, who try to stem the tide.
There are those in our community who also have the first-hand experience in dealing with addiction, who have opinions about the effectiveness of treatments and solutions. Their personal experience may come from the pain of living with a chemically dependent family member. Because of their experience, they may have a different opinion on treatment. They may see efforts toward providing certain health services and supply provision as facilitation, based on their dealing with family members. Their reality is that they have family members who they have tried to empathize with, and found that instead of rehabilitation, they have ended up with heartbreak and disappointment.
During this long tribal discussion that we have had about the chemical dependency problems our people face, there have been as many opinions about treatment, and accountability, as we have fingers and toes. Many are still of the belief that much addiction is a choice, a choice that should have criminal consequences.
We all agree that something needs to be done, we vary on what needs to be done. Depending on your personal dealings with addictions, your opinion on it may be different than mine. I believe that we are stronger when we know each other’s views, regardless of how “opposite” they may be. Opposing views are opportunities for education. Education is the key to correcting the course.
We recently reported that the proposal submission process had begun for a tract of land to be used for housing. This development would include workforce housing that, ultimately, will help the Tribe maintain the revenue flow for the sizeable tribal budget that provides for all the service provided to our community. The Housing Division brought this idea forward because they know that continuing to expand economic drivers like the casino, retail outlets, adventure parks, and other projects will require housing for workers that will facilitate revenue generation so that more of our community may enjoy continued and better services. The Housing Division did this, not to the exclusion of community housing, but to aide in providing financial support for more community housing. Despite the opinion of some, both workforce and community housing can and should be developed in unison. Stopping one or the other defeats both.
Then there are those in our community who have firsthand experience with the frustration of trying to get their families in homes to be faced with layers of red tape, long wait times (days and months, not hours), and being bounced from committee to committee for resolution. Families are literally begging for help from their elected officials to get their families into a home. It is difficult for them to look at the big picture when their families cannot get into a house. So, they publicize their cry for help. They don’t understand, and they are hurting. Again, opposing views are opportunities for education. Education is the key to correcting the course.
These are just two examples. There are many more of people expressing their thoughts in letters to the editor, commentary, and on our social media site. It also shows the enormous opportunity for engagement and transparency we have through communicating within our community.
We take a little heat for some of the opinions we put in the One Feather. Some feel that airing those opinions will cause the community to get the wrong impression about efforts. On my personal page, I expressed an opinion about an incident at a public meeting regarding a stance on faith (religion). Someone who rarely communicates with me commented on how vehemently she disagreed with me based her understanding of what I said. I could have shut her down and removed her from my page. After all, I was the expert on my page, and I was “in the right.” But, instead of ignoring her, I engaged in a lengthy conversation about the issue. Listening to her, I found that she misunderstood why I held the position that I did. I was able to provide my reasoning for my statements. Don’t get me wrong; my first instinct was to be defensive and to tell her to “speak to the hand.” But, age and experience prevailed. I instead thoughtfully considered her opposition and provided her with the rationale for my position, in addition to references for her to be educated on the subject. We didn’t come to agree entirely with each other’s beliefs, but we were able to understand each other and come to some agreement. And, many times, that is the best that you may hope for.
I have preached transparency in government for a long time. I also think we need the openness of our community. I believe that we gain so much more by having an open forum for discussion in the One Feather than we would have otherwise. People are not going to agree on everything; maybe not even most things. People are not going to understand the inner workings of government. They will not understand why things are the way they are. I believe those are opportunities for education. Our leaders do not need to take offense. They need to be on the offense. Part of the job of public service in communication with the constituency; communicate at our level of understanding and keep talking until we get it. If you feel that you are providing us with the right path, then there must be a justification for taking that road. Transparency. It is not something to fear. I would be more afraid of a constituency that is in the dark than I would be of a community in the know. I understand that we have seen government cultures of silence and sometimes secrecy. I also realize that much of that is because we don’t necessarily want the “outside world” to be in our business. At times, we sacrifice too much among our people for that mentality.
I am a big advocate for the free flow of thought, even when the opinions that flow are very different and even opposite from my own. I don’t go into a discussion with the idea of winning someone over to my side or vice versa, mostly because that never works. But reasoned debate will provide insight, and that will allow us to move forward despite our differences.