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'Red Lives Matter': White Earth rally aims to bring awareness to drug abuse deaths

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"Red lives matter" was the theme of a rally on the White Earth Reservation as a group gathered to bring attention to something that continues to threaten American Indian lives: drug abuse.

This is the latest request from American Indian community members for tribal leaders to put their focus on fixing the drug problem that has devastated families on reservations across the country.

"Red lives matter," Bob Shimek, who organized the rally, told the Bemidji Pioneer. "We can be idle no more."

Those who attended the rally outside tribal headquarters last week reflected on the reservation's drug epidemic (especially the increase of heroin and methamphetamine use) that continues to take the lives of young people, as well as criticizing the tribe's approach for handling the drug problem.

The rally came after the most recent drug-related death on the White Earth Reservation; 26-year-old Tiffany Jackson, who had struggled with drugs for years, died of an overdose last week, the paper says.

“I’ve been watching our people die prematurely since I was a little kid, starting with alcohol,” Shimek told the Bemidji Pioneer. “Then we morphed into other substances. There was the first round of meth, then we went to prescription pills, then we went to heroine and meth combined.”

Heroin use has been on the rise across the country among all age groups and demographics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The report notes that 96 percent of people who reported heroin use also reported using at least one other drug in the past year.

“While people from every demographic have been affected by the heroin and opioid crisis, the American Indian community has been the hardest hit,” Hennepin County spokeswoman Rebecca Gilbuena told the Star Tribune back in May after 41 people were indicted for trafficking heroin on Minnesota reservations.

Following the May indictment, members of the White Earth and Red Lake reservations recalled how the drug has devastated families and individuals on reservations, and has led to more babies being born addicted to the drug.

Shimek and the others who attended last week's rally didn't have specific answers on how to fix the problem, but told the Bemidji Pioneer that the rally was "about bringing the word to our tribal council and to its law enforcement arm that we can no longer sit by quietly and watch our people die alone of these overdoses."

More than 8,200 people nationwide died of heroin-related drug abuse in 2013, the CDC notes. The organization has also called for more action, saying improving opioid painkiller prescribing practices, increasing access to substance abuse centers and increasing the use of naloxone (a potentially lifesaving drug that can restore breathing in the event of a heroin or opioid-related overdose) will all help reduce the number of drug overdose deaths nationwide.

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