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Crystal Meth Plagues Navajo Nation

Shonie De La Rosa and his documentary, G, focusing on methamphetamine use in the Navajo Nation, won the award for Best Public Service Film November 13 at the 29th Annual American Indian Film Festival. The documentary was the first produced by a Navajo to win at this film festival.

The film’s title refers to user’s jargon for methamphetamine: crystal meth, G, glass, speed, ice, or crank. Users snort, inject, or smoke the drug. Methamphetamine can be easily made by household products such as fertilizers, cold medicines, nail polish remover, iodine, and Drano, according to MSNBC. Because this highly addictive white powder is easy and cheap to make, it has taken a stronghold on reservations in recent years.

On the Navajo reservation, roughly $20 dollars can buy enough crystal meth to get three or four people high for an entire day, MSNBC reports.

Michelle Archuleta, director of the Tuba City (Arizona) Regional Health Care Corporation, which sponsored De La Rosa's documentary, is actively fighting the use of meth on reservations by sending crystal meth experts and police officers to public schools throughout Navajo Nation to educate students. "We’re trying to improve the wellness of this community from a Native perspective by including entire Navajo families and also Navajo spiritual philosophies in our outreach," Archuleta told In These Times.

De La Rosa's film, produced by Sheephead Films, features interviews conducted with Navajo users about what effects the drug had on them physically, emotionally, and economically. One of De La Rosa's purposes in creating the film was to ensure it was "geared toward the Navajo people," allowing his viewers to relate to those telling their stories and experiences with meth.

"Unfortunately, there was not nearly enough awareness or education about amphetamine addictions because it is a relatively new drug whose use has exploded on the Navajo Reservation in the last two years," De La Rosa said.

Methamphetamine is illegal under U.S. federal law, but is legal to buy, sell, and possess on Indian reservations, according to the Indian Health Service.

On November 8, legislation to amend the Navajo Nation Controlled Substance Act was tabled by the Navajo Nation Public Safety Committee to allow the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney's Office to submit comments. The law defines which drugs are legal and illegal on the reservation.

Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, Kee Allen Begay, Larry Anderson, Sr., and Willie Grayeyes, members of the Navajo Nation Council that sponsored the legislation, believe that once crystal meth is made illegal on reservations, problems associated with the drug will begin to dissipate.

De La Rosa disagrees.

"Marijuana and alcohol are illegal in Navajo Nation—and they are still used," he said. "A change of law will not make a dent in the problem."

De La Rosa believes a better solution would be to create facilities to assist people suffering drug addiction, and to educate and increase awareness about the dangers associated with this addictive drug.

The number of Indians treated for methamphetamine use at Indian Health Service sites across the country has increased from 2,167 in 2000 to 4,077 in the first eight months of 2004.

The Navajo Nation is not the only place where American Indians are seeing the effects of methamphetamine abuse. The drug has permeated Sioux reservations in South Dakota, leading to the creation of the Meth Awareness and Prevention Project South Dakota (MAPP-SD) three years ago with the help of a federal grant. The aim of MAPP is much like that of De La Rosa’s documentary—to generate awareness.

De La Rosa’s documentary will be screening throughout November, which is National American Indian Heritage Month. The Tuba City Health Promotion Program is currently organizing screening dates for the film throughout the Navajo Nation.