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Erma Vizenor, Published March 12 2012

Election silliness in the air

This is an election year and it’s far easier for my opponents to cast stones and use strong rhetoric. Current claims that the White Earth Nation’s effort to secure an urban casino is a “clever diversion” to substance abuse issues on the reservation couldn’t be further from the truth.

As chairwoman of the tribe for the past nine years, fighting substance abuse issues has been one of my top priorities. In fact, on Jan. 31, 2011, our tribal council passed a proclamation declaring a public health emergency with respect to prescription and illegal drug abuse. White Earth was the first tribe in the country to bring attention and focus to this issue. Consider the following:

• In 2011, we held a Substance Abuse Summit and gathered tribal, state and federal agencies to discuss and create realistic solutions and strategies for the abuse of prescription and other illegal drugs.

• White Earth has an aggressive drug-testing program in place for employees, which includes random testing. We also provide treatment for employees dealing with drug addiction.

• The White Earth tribe purchased and runs the Oshki Manidoo Center, which is a treatment facility for Native American youth and their families. We opened that facility so we could provide a safe and culturally rich environment for our youth struggling with substance abuse. We are changing lives daily at Oshki with our holistic and culturally sensitive approach to helping kids and their families.

• The White Earth Tribe is committed to developing practical solutions for substance abuse issues that will be a model for other tribes, states and federal government.

None of our efforts come without a cost. And as the state’s largest and poorest tribe, we are constantly looking for grants and new ways to support and fund programs necessary to keep our people healthy.

That is exactly why the White Earth Nation launched MinnesotaWins – our effort to enter into a business partnership with the state of Minnesota to open a metro-area casino. This casino could bring hundreds of millions of dollars that will help us to continue to address the needs of our people including improved health care, substance abuse assistance and more educational opportunities. It will also help us create new jobs and new opportunities in northwestern Minnesota and provide a consistent funding stream to both the tribe and the state.

There is no easy fix to these problems. We need hard work and dedication combined with strong leadership and a steady course. I have demonstrated that during my term and am committed to providing that same leadership into the future.

Vizenor is chairwoman, White Earth Nation.