Don Long, an enrolled member and father of a drug addict, is tired of waiting.
“We’ve got to do something,” he said.
Long introduced a resolution to Tribal Council last week asking that the Eastern Band transform an empty community center on Acquoni Road into a place where enrolled members can receive help and temporary housing while they fight their drug and alcohol addictions.
In the end, Tribal Council voted unanimously to move forward with plans for a rehabilitation center, with a few adjustments to Long’s resolution.
The resolution approved last week stated that the tribe will either renovate a building or built a brand new structure, whichever is cheaper, to house the center.
It also requires that all pertinent parties — including Tribal Council, Health and Human Services and Cherokee Police Department representatives — gather as soon as can be arranged to start creating a short-term plan for getting a center operational, as well as long-term goals.
“We need to start putting pen to paper,” said Adam Wachacha, a Tribal Council representative from Snowbird.
Not enough is being done to combat drug and alcohol problems on the Qualla Boundary.
“We’ve been trying to put a Band-Aid on a problem. This is a problem that needs to be attacked,” Wachacha said. “I think it’s time that council takes a hard stance on this.”
The Eastern Band currently has a place called Analenisgi that offers therapy, wellness evaluations and other programming for people with substance abuse problems. But that is not its only focus, and only outpatient services are offered. With a substance abuse rehabilitation center, enrolled members could live at the facility while receiving treatment and support.
Native American tribes have high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and enrolled members continue to die from overdoses or related causes.
“There is not a family on this boundary who has not been to a service of a friend or a family member,” said Teresa McCoy, a Tribal Council representative from Big Cove.
There are plenty of police dollars going into fighting drugs and sending drug sellers and drug abusers to prison, but not enough toward treatment of what many feel is an illness.
“Addicts don’t deserve punishment; they deserve help,” McCoy said. “We lost the war on drugs when we started burying our kids.”
Tribal Council has approved resolutions vowing to create such a center in the past, but nothing has come of it. Instead, money and effort have gone into building a new casino in Cherokee County and a new hospital facility, McCoy said.
“Gaming is not more important than kids and a new hospital is not either,” she said.
Tribal leaders have pontificated about the need for a substance abuse rehabilitation center again and again but should have put its money where its mouth is long ago, said enrolled member Amy Walker
“The money hasn’t been provided,” Walker said. “We need to make this our highest priority.”
Back in 2007, a resolution was passed to create a rehabilitation center, and Tribal Council members even visited The Healing Place, a substance abuse center in Raleigh, to look at best practices. Six years later, the Eastern Band is no closer to having a facility.
“We are spinning our wheels. We have been spinning them for too long,” said Missy Crowe, an enrolled member, blaming it on a lack of communication. “We need a daily live-in program for our young adults.”
Crowe asked council to revaluate its budget and see where it can cut so that money is available for the much-needed program.
Enrolled members now must go away from their families to Black Mountain or at some other rehabilitation facility, but when they return, they fall back into their same life with the same bad influences.
“They are going to have to come back here, and there are still going to be those problems,” Long said.
“We can’t wait anymore. We have already buried too many people,” said enrolled member Nancy Long.