“Hope, not dope.”

“Hate the drugs, not the addict.”

“Stand up, fight back.”

These and other chants could be heard Aug. 31 throughout the Lower Sioux Community, as dozens of members took to the streets to send a message.

“Drugs are not welcome here,” said James Cross of Natives Against Heroin.

Cross, who lives in South Minneapolis, came out to support the Lower Sioux Community in its efforts to combat what he called a growing problem on reservations across Minnesota and around the world – drug abuse that leads to overdose deaths. Aug. 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day.

For Wanda Blue of the Lower Sioux Community standing up on this day is personal, as her daughter, Valerie Grey Eagle, died as a result of a drug overdose. She is tired of all of the deaths. 

Blue coordinated the Aug. 31 march with the help of friends and family, and it is her hope that it is the first step on the journey to make changes in the community.

“We have lost too many of our people to drugs,” she said.

The event received the support of the Lower Sioux Tribal Council, as it officially signed a proclamation in recognition of the day and committed to help with the effort to combat drug use in the community.

Brian Pendleton, Lower Sioux Community tribal council chair, said the proclamation sends a loud and clear message that drugs are the enemy of the Lower Sioux, and it is going to do whatever it can to help turn things around for present and future generations.

“We have had eight overdose deaths in this community,” said Blue, adding each one of them was a loved one who made the wrong choice.

It is important, said Cross, for people to remember, it is not the people who are addicted to drugs who are the problem. It is the drugs and the people who are bringing it in and selling it.

Cross started the Natives Against Heroin movement after he saw the impact drugs were having on his people, and as he and others began to speak up others heard, agreed and joined the fight.

“This is a grassroots movement that is building across Minnesota,” Cross said, adding there are Natives Against Heroin groups starting on several of the reservations in the state. “We need the people to wake up and see what is going on around them. We need to stop this epidemic before it gets any worse. Drugs are a black spirit on us that is killing our people.”

Thousands of people have joined the movement, said Cross, and he said he won’t stop until the drug problem comes to an end.

According to the proclamation signed by the Lower Sioux Tribal Council, the Drug Policy Alliance indicates that accidental overdoes is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States among people between the ages of 35-54.

It further states more than 20,000 people die every year of an overdose form heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs and other narcotics, which is a number that has quadrupled since 1990. International Overdose Awareness Day began in Australia in 2001 at a suburban crisis center, and since then it has grown and is now observed across the globe by millions of people standing up and fighting back.

According to information provided during the event at the Lower Sioux Community, it is rare for someone to die immediately from an overdose, and when people do survive it is because someone was there to respond.

What follows are some sings of an overdose:

• Slow or absent breathing

• Choking, coughing or gurgling sounds

• Cold or clammy skin

• Extremely small pupils

• Dizziness

• Disorientation

• Lack of movement or inability to be awakened from sleep If someone is concerned they are observing someone who is experiencing an overdoes, it is important to act quickly and to get help by calling 911.

Never let them sleep it off.

“We have to make this a priority,” said Cross, adding that means shutting down the dealers, speaking out and raising awareness. “This is about breaking the cycle of addiction. We need people to know that help is available. We need our people to know that we are fighting back.”