COMMENTARY: Don’t get in that van.

by Sep 17, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


It is amazing how time flies these days. Actually, time moving faster is a mental illusion. For the most part, time is constant, never going faster or slower. They say time flies when you are having fun, but you really just lose track of time and only seemingly run out of it more quickly. But I surely understand the feeling because the old saying about time moving faster as you grow older is a thought to which I can relate. In many ways, it seems like only yesterday we were kicking off the summer and now the temperatures are edging their way into the cool of fall. The night is creeping in sooner and the tops of trees are having their wardrobe changed into leaves of their death clothes. Before we know it, the end of 2023 will be a reality.

It is also approaching that one time of year when we actually encourage our kids to be beggars and extortionists. The whole idea behind trick-or-treating is that a kid goes to a door with a bag in their hands, knocks on it, and when someone appears, provides the ultimatum. The choices are clear in the traditional Halloween greeting; provide my sugar fix or suffer the defacing of your home with rotten eggs and/or toilet paper strategically strown about your domicile. I could probably research and come up with a history and a “why” for this practice, but I prefer to leave that research to you.

Losing track of time and absent-mindedness are mindsets that can be very costly, especially this time of year. As the weather cools, we tend to enjoy the outdoors more, going to sporting events and gatherings like picnics and concerts. And with all that distraction, critical focus is often lost, especially when it comes to children.  We get preoccupied with interesting conversations at an outdoor camping retreat, and a child wanders into the woods. Or we are in a crowd of hundreds at a football game and while we are watching an exciting scoring run, our little one decides to find the restrooms alone and by the time we notice, the child has disappeared.

Lack of attentiveness during a holiday when we encourage our children to take candy from strangers (which is a very strange practice since we preach “stranger-danger” the other 364 days of the year) could be disastrous. Back in the day, fearmongering prevailed in that while some actual incidents of “treat” tampering (razor blades in apples, cyanide in Pixie-Stix, needles in candy bars), these incidents were isolated, and the vast majority of children did not have problems with what folks were putting in their bags. And while the candy-colored “rainbow fentanyl” caused a scare in 2022 during Halloween, there weren’t reports of anyone packaging and distributing the deadly drug to children in trick-or-treat bags.

Still, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in a paper issued in May 2023 that more than 5,000 children and teens have died from overdoses involving fentanyl in the past two decades. “More than half of those deaths occurred in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were about 1,550 pediatric deaths from fentanyl in 2021-over 30 times more than in 2013, when the wave of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids started in the U.S. A surge that began in 2018 led to a nearly 3-fold increase in deaths among older adolescents and a nearly 6-fold increase among children younger than 5. In 2021, 40 infants and 93 children ages 1 to 4 died from a fentanyl overdose.”

So, maybe it is just good common sense to not wait for a rash of deaths to prompt us to take some simple precautions to protect our children. Tell them to wait to eat anything they get from a stranger until you have examined it. Better yet stay with them and ensure that they wait. Chances are that they are more endangered by all that processed sugar than a potential poisoning, but better safe than sorry.

Another good reason to hang out with your kids when they are not in the confines of your home is that sometimes you must be the common sense for your kids. Common sense would say don’t wander off into an unknown area or don’t get into a vehicle with a person offering candy or a puppy. But it happens.

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “The FBI’s National Crime Information tallied 359,094 entries for missing children in 2022, nearly 22,000 more than in 2021. Those figures are undercounts-many missing children cases go unreported.”

Those numbers boggle the mind. It is like casualty reports during a war, the numbers are so large as to numb the mind to the real pain and suffering that takes place for families when a child goes missing, not to mention what a child might face in the wilderness or from an abductor.

To bring it closer to home, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports, “Native American children comprised 415 of the 27,733 children reported missing to the National Center in 2021. From 2012-2021 of the Native American children who were endangered runaways, 65 percent had two or more missing incidents, 45 percent reportedly suffered from mental illness, and 26 percent expressed suicidal behavior.”

Again, statistics tell a story of the immensity of the problem.

Couple those statistics with the recent reminder and awareness of the level of human trafficking that occurs in our neighborhood and in Indian Country. One website recounted the experience of a 15-year-old Navajo girl, one “among the thousands of human trafficking victims targeted and exploited in the U.S. every year, of whom only 10 percent are ever identified. In New Mexico, a mere 160 cases have been opened since 2016. But, while Native Americans make up about 11 percent of New Mexico’s population, they account for nearly a quarter of the trafficking victims. When it comes to human trafficking, indigenous women and girls are the least recognized and least protected population. An almost total lack of protocols, mandated training, and coordination among law enforcement systems and medical institutions has ensnared victims in ongoing cycles of exploitation.” (Searchlight NM).

In Cherokee and on the Qualla Boundary, a community education event named “How you can help stop Human Trafficking” was held during the summer. The event was organized by the Tribal Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Program (Marsha Jackson, Manager), the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor (Shelli Buckner, Senior Tribal Prosecutor), and Extension Office Community Development Coordinator Tammy Jackson. The session ran from noon to 7 p.m. featuring presenters from law enforcement and help agencies. Several community members came to the Yellowhill Activity Center to get educated on what is going on in our community about this issue and what measures to take to protect the community. The prevalence of human trafficking on the Qualla Boundary became a topic of interest in the tribal elections as well.

Not to put a scare into you during the upcoming season, but please ensure that you are attentive and aware of your surroundings and the whereabouts of your children, especially when you are in areas of potential danger. Report suspicious activity, vehicles, and anything that looks like tampering with anything your child is going to eat. Keeping our kids safe is how we have a happy fall and the best way to wrap up 2023.