Leaders discuss tribe’s priorities, opioid epidemic

Bellingham, Wash.—Leaders of the Lummi Nation today met with Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, to discuss tribal priorities and ways to address the opioid epidemic.

“We’re glad to have the chance to discuss Lummi’s priorities with Secretary Zinke and we thank the Secretary for the visit,” said Jay Julius, Chairman of the Lummi Nation. “It is an opportunity for us to remember the past, but also focus on the future.”

In December 2017, Lummi Nation declared a Public Health Crisis to end illegal drug use on the Lummi reservation. Lummi leaders discussed both the history of the Lummi Nation and the tribe’s ongoing fight to address opioids.

“Our people are dying and families are being torn apart,” said Julius. “This epidemic is devastating to both tribal and non-tribal communities and the only way we win this battle is to work together. We’ve had enough death. What we need is collaboration and sufficient resources to address the problem.”

In addition, Lummi leaders discussed the importance of protecting their homeland and waters, and ensuring that there is fish for future generations. The health of natural resources, says the tribe, are connected to the opioid crisis.

“Where we are as a people today is directly linked to the decline of our salmon and our natural resources,” said Julius. “Since our leaders signed the treaty in 1855, we have less fish, our waters are polluted and our whole ecosystem is unbalanced. You only have to look at the current opioid epidemic our tribe and others are facing to see that this is a very painful and personal loss felt by our people.”

The Lummi Nation took the opportunity to meet with the Secretary to discuss the efforts that the tribe has made to combat this epidemic, and also discuss the many unmet needs to deal with the public health crisis.

“Rather than looking for ways to jail our people, we are focused on a restorative approach to healing our people from this disease,” said Julius. “We discussed missing components from the structure, including prevention, a medical detox facility and transitional housing to strengthen the foundation following inpatient treatment.”

Tribal leaders also urged Secretary Zinke to engage in a partnership with tribes to ensure treaty obligations are met.

“The Lummi ancestors entered into a bi-lateral partnership with the United States government in 1855. There are obligations that haven’t always been met,” said Julius. “The treaty demands a nation-to-nation relationship and I hope this meeting is just the beginning of a longer conversation with the Secretary and the department. These lands, waters, animals and fish are a part of our schelangen, our way of life. When we lose them, we suffer the consequences.”