Students whose lives were shaped by their families' addiction issues are on a mission to tackle the reservation's drug problem.
Danacia Greywater and Darian Charboneau, recent graduates of Cankdeska Cikana Community College who served on the school’s student government, are on a mission to address the drug problem on Spirit Lake Reservation.
Both Greywater and Charboneau say that their families dealt with addiction issues that severely affected their lives.
Charboneau’s mother, Robin Poorbear, was featured in the documentary “Kind-Hearted Woman,” produced by PBS and released in 2013. Poorbear has since passed away, but she was open about her struggles stemming from the years of abuse she suffered.
Charboneau wants to use her experiences growing up to bring help back to her people while avoiding many of the same obstacles that made her family’s life so difficult.
“During my lifetime, knowing firsthand how alcohol has affected a family, it makes you more cautious about how you want to live your life,” Charboneau said. “You know that gene is in your blood, so you’re more drawn to becoming an alcoholic. It’s a recurring thing.”
Although she saw the effects of alcohol on her family as a child and later a teenager, Charboneau says that drugs such as meth have become at least as much of a problem on the reservation.
“Over the years I’ve seen the drug problem become a bigger problem. Alcohol is common, but it’s getting to the point that drugs are more common,” Charboneau said. “I’m an EMS worker at the ambulance service here. Getting those calls, you see people under the influence of those drugs, you see how it affects them.”
Greywater says that she also saw the effects of drug use on her family throughout her life.
“I grew up in a family of addiction,” Greywater said. “My father passed away due to alcoholism, and my mom is an addict herself. I’ve seen things that I probably shouldn’t have seen.”
Greywater, who along with Charboneau has been an enrolled member of Spirit Lake Tribe her entire life, reports that she’s noticed things deteriorate on the reservation when it comes to drug abuse.
“I think it’s gotten worse,” Greywater said. “I remember I had a family when I was little; we’d have family reunions, we’d have dinner together. Now I don’t have relationships with some of my cousins, aunts, uncles because of the addiction.”
Because of what she’s seen over the years, Greywater, like Charboneau, says that she has worked to avoid many of those pitfalls. For her, getting an education was the key.
“You have two options. You can either be a product of your environment or you can use what you grew up in and get out of the environment. Going to college was pretty much the only way to get out,” Greywater said. “I plan to go to UND for nursing. I have a baby, and the nurses there really helped me, so that’s what I want to do.”
Charboneau graduated from the social work program at CCCC and was recently named the alcohol and drug prevention coordinator for the tribe. Both want to use their education to help rid the reservation of the overwhelming influence of drugs like meth.
In that pursuit, Greywater and Charboneau organized a walk against meth that took place Wednesday. Over 200 people showed up, demonstrating that there is a real interest from the community in addressing the issue.
In addition to the walk, Greywater says that she wants to find a way to keep momentum going toward finding a solution.
“When I think of people having walks, I think about what else we can do also,” Greywwater said. "Sure, you’re raising awareness, but we already know about the problem.”
That’s why, in addition to the walk, information booths about meth addiction and where to get help were a part of Wednesday’s events, along with guest speakers who have dealt with addiction issues involving meth and painkillers.
Charboneau and Greywater also want to keep the issue in the minds of people on the reservation so they can move beyond awareness and into action.
“It would be good if we could get a youth coalition together to keep this going forward. Hopefully, I can help establish that here,” Charboneau said. “I want to hear what people think. I think it would be interesting to see the feedback we get from our community members, what they think we should do.”
One idea that has been considered for years is a treatment facility for Spirit Lake members, who are likely to vote soon on whether or not alcohol may be served at Spirit Lake Casino. The reservation is currently dry, but the tribal council has expressed interest in using a portion of possible alcohol sales revenue to set up a treatment facility.
The tribe was also awarded $1.73 million as part of a settlement that affected tribes across the country, part of which could also be used for a treatment facility, according to notes from the last tribal council meeting.
Greywater and Charboneau have different ideas about where such a facility should be located if it becomes a reality, and why.
“I think it would help a lot,” Greywater said. “You grow up on the reservation, you grow up around Native Americans, and you don’t want to go to a different culture for help. You want help from people you know.”
While she agrees that a treatment center could be a big boon for the reservation, Charboneau says that it may be wise to locate it elsewhere so that those seeking help aren’t burdened by the distractions that getting treatment close to home can bring.
“I think that it would almost be better to have a treatment center off of the reservation,” Charboneau said. “You’re focusing more on yourself and you’re not distracted.”
That’s a debate that will be undertaken should a treatment facility become a more concrete plan, which will have more of a chance at becoming a reality with continued community support.
Charboneau is currently considering her education options post-graduation, while Greywater says that she plans to return to Spirit Lake after getting her nursing degree from UND.
Both expressed a desire to use their education and passion for helping their people as part of a lifetime goal.
“We want to bring positive publicity to the tribe, because it always seems to be kind of on the negative side,” Charboneau said. “We want to make it more positive and take the steps in the right direction to make a change.”
Greywater added that she’s returning after she graduates because she sees it as the only option.
“Why would you want to go out into the world and help them when our reservation needs help?”