Drug Addiction Plaguing Northern Plains Indigenous Communities Linked to Oil Industry

Posted March 1, 2017

MP3 Excerpt of talk by Julie Richards, Oglala Lakota anti-pipeline activist and founder of Mothers Against Meth Alliance, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus


Julie Richards is an Oglala Lakota woman who grew up on one of the Sioux reservations that dot North and South Dakota. As a water protector, she was the first woman to lock herself down to oil drilling machinery as Energy Transfer Partners was building the controversial Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The pipeline is heading toward completion as the company, with the blessing of the Trump administration, drills under the Missouri River to complete the 1,172-mile project that indigenous people call the Black Snake.

Richards was recently on an East Coast tour with members of the Red Warrior Society talking about the ongoing fight to stop the pipeline. She also spoke about a group she founded years earlier, called MAMA, or Mothers Against METH Alliance. Methamphetamine, also known as “crystal meth,” or simply “meth” is a highly addictive stimulant that can be smoked, injected, inhaled or taken by mouth. Richards was moved to act after her daughter got caught up in meth addiction, a scourge in native communities in the Dakotas that exploded when so-called "man camps" were built to bring in oil extraction and pipeline workers. Already plagued by high rates of alcoholism and suicide, people living on reservations in the northern plains now face the potentially deadly threat of meth addiction.

As part of the tour, Richards gave a talk at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, Connecticut on Feb. 6. The following excerpts from Richards' nearly hour-long discussion were recorded and produced by Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus. [Rush transcript]

JULIE RICHARDS: Do any of you know about the man camps? A lot of people don't know about it. So wherever there's oil industry, or mining, the workers there are all men, the ones that come in are men, especially [for] the pipelines. And they set up camps there. And a lot of them are already into drugs, because they need those drugs to stay up all night. When we were at camp, those lights were on all night; they work all night. I told those cops, they're not staying up all night with just coffee. They're on meth! They're doing meth. And they set up so close to the reservations, and they usually recruit one Indian man to work for them. And then they use him to recruit the native women from the tribe; they use him to introduce the tribe to the drugs. And now it's heroin. My tribe is still into the meth epidemic, but a lot of other tribes are into the heroin now, that comes from these man camps. And they mix the heroin with the meth, and that's even more dangerous. So it's mostly men, and then they start sex trafficking. They need the women, and if there's not that many women, they turn to the young boys. They recruit a young boy to go into their camp to do different odd jobs, and they end up using him for sex. And that's the type of stuff that our native women deal with when there's oil industry, is the sex violence, and it's all connected – the oil industry, the pipelines, the man camps, the meth and heroin, the sex trafficking, and it leads to the murder of indigenous women. You know, it's all connected, and nobody really knows that.

So that was my fight there at Standing Rock. When I was locked down to that bulldozer, I was the first native woman to lock down to a bulldozer, and I love this picture because it's filled with nothing but warrior women. And they asked me, why are you locked down to this bulldozer? And that was my response: my grandmother fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn, I can't expect anything less of myself. I need to fight to save my great-grandchildren a hundred years from now. I want them to be able to live here and be safe; I want them to have clean drinking water. So not only are they desecrating Mother Earth and poisoning our water, our sisters are disappearing; our daughters are disappearing at a high rate, but the cops prefer to protect the pipeline.

Every time I come face to face fighting with a meth dealer, what they don't know is that it's not just me they're fighting against; that's why they can't harm me. My ancestors are surrounding me. At sundance, my ancestors vowed to be with me in this fight against meth and to keep me safe, and they have. There are so many times I could have been killed, but my ancestors saved me. I started going into the jail; the jail called me and asked me to do meth awareness and education with the men and women in jail, so I did. So my very first one was with the women; the second one was with the men, and it was all the meth dealers that I'd been fighting with. They threatened to kill me, and I probably threatened to kill them, too. But I came face to face with them and I start telling them my perspective on it, coming from a mother's perspective, from seeing my daughter so high that she was freaking out and seeing things. I think she sees things because meth is an evil spirit. We had to smudge the whole house and pray with Fools Crow's pipe, and that was the only thing that got it out of there.

Then she'd come back again from one of her binges, and we'd see it but we'd keep smudging, and I'd talk to it. My ancestors are stronger than you; you don't got me, 'cause it doesn't and it never will. It tries to attack me in different ways. At first I thought I was going crazy because I'd be ready to go out and do meth awareness or a walk and rally, and I'd have my phone on the charger all night, and I'd get to the place where we're going to talk, and my phone would be dead, or I'll get done with the presentation and my car would be dead. One time we went to another reservation to do a walk and rally; that was the first one they ever had. And when we were ready to leave, all four of our cars were dead. And the people said, What happened? Did you leave your radio on? And I said, No, it's that meth spirit. So that's why I'm always smudging. We smudged down before we come in here, and when I'm done talking we smudge down again, because, you know, it thinks I'm giving it attention, but I'm not. I'm still fighting against it because I'm bringing that awareness about it. And I'll keep fighting until the day I die, because I've seen the devastation. I've seen my beautiful daughter turn into somebody she wasn't. I'd sit up with her for days. I'd be tired; I'd doze off but I'd sit up with her because I didn't want her to be by herself because she became suicidal. And now suicide is another evil spirit that goes hand in hand with it, along with alcohol. Alcohol is also one of my fights now. I fight against eco-genocide; I fight against meth; I fight for the water; I fight for the land; I refuse to be a victim of boarding school trauma. I refuse to be a victim of sexual assault; or child sexual abuse. I refuse to be a victim of spouse abuse. I refuse to be a victim of alcohol abuse and I refuse to be a victim of drug abuse. I'm a survivor! I'm a warrior! And if my story will help change someone's life around, that's all that I want in life.

For more information, visit Mothers Against Meth Alliance at mothersagainstmeth.org and on Facebook at facebook.com/mothersagainstmeth.

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