Tribal group gets $5M to battle alcoholism

Grant will fund programs, help those in recovery
2009-07-14T00:35:00Z Tribal group gets $5M to battle alcoholismDIANE COCHRAN Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 14, 2009 12:35 am  • 

A $5 million grant from the federal government will help American Indian tribes in Montana and Wyoming curb alcohol abuse among their members.

The five-year award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will fund programs to reduce underage drinking and create sober communities for recovering alcoholics.

The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council announced Monday that it received the grant, which began July 1.

Serious problem

Alcohol abuse is a continuing and serious problem in American Indian communities, said Gordon Belcourt, the council's executive director.

"Part of the problem is people are using alcohol and drugs to escape," Belcourt said.

The future can seem grim to young American Indians living on reservations with high rates of unemployment and substance abuse, he said.

As many as 13 percent of American Indians are dependent on alcohol, according to the council's statistics. That is more than three times the rate of alcoholism in the general population.

The Tribal Leaders Council will distribute the grant money to its 11 member tribes as prevention programs are developed.

Some of the money will help create sober communities, or housing developments and social networks that forbid alcohol.

"One of the biggest problems we have with people in recovery is their whole social world is now a danger to them," said Craig Love, a consultant who helped the Tribal Leaders Council secure the grant.

Cultural activities

It will also fund efforts to steer children and teenagers away from alcohol, including cultural activities and programs that encourage kids to learn traditional ways from elders.

"We want to create some heroes and mythology for our young people," Belcourt said.

Members of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council include the Blackfeet, Chippewa Cree, Crow, Eastern Shoshone, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Little Shell, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Salish and Kootenai tribes.

In addition to its community-level prevention work, the organization plans to open a drug and alcohol treatment center in Sheridan, Wyo., later this year.

The Inter-Tribal Wellness Center would treat as many as 100 American Indians a year for alcohol and drug dependency.

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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