Kirk Testifies To Senate Committee On Fort Peck Reservation’s Fentanyl Crisis
Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board member Bryce Kirk stressed the need for federal support in the battle against fentanyl use during his testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Kirk noted, “Fentanyl has no boundaries. It’s affecting men, women, children and elderly of all walks of life.”
He explained that people deal drugs to support their own habits. “Our people can go to Spokane with $1,000 and bring 1,000 pills back and make $120,000. This is destroying families.”
Kirk told senators that the Fort Peck Reservation is experiencing a higher crime rate, including murders and kidnappings. In addition, he said suicides remain a large concern.
“When did we get that it’s OK for people to continue to lose their loved ones walking in front of trains?” Kirk asked senators.
Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Frederick reports that there have been six deaths in the county due to overdoses of fentanyl and/or meth since 2021.
Kirk told senators that he is a recovering addict. He has been clean and sober for 11 years.
“While the crisis is daunting, it is not hopeless,” Kirk said. “This just isn’t a red or blue issue. This is everybody. It contains our kids. We in Fort Peck have lost a generation of kids right now.”
He stressed the need for additional law enforcement in the area.
“We don’t need doors slammed in our face when we try to reach out to our federal partners,” Kirk said. “We need to work together with people coming onto our reservation. We need more mental and behavioral health.”
He’s afraid the crisis will get worse before it gets better without federal assistance.
“We need the direct funding to come to our tribes, to come to our reservations,” Kirk testified. “We know what it takes. Us as leaders, we know what our people need.”
Kirk mentioned the desire for job training, housing and community facilities. He said area leaders want the support and tools to grow their efforts.
“We need federal agencies to be true partners,” Kirk said. “We don’t need bureaucrats in D.C. telling us how to solve the problem.”
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., attended the committee hearing. “The Montana State Crime Lab has reported a 1,000 percent increase in fentanyl-related overdoses since 2017, and Native Americans are suffering the highest overdose death rate by a massive margin — it’s not even close,” Daines said. “In Montana, Native Americans are twice as likely to die of an overdose than any other Montanan. The Blackfeet Nation recently had to declare a state of emergency because of the staggering number of overdoses they are seeing. Fentanyl seizures at the border are up 800 percent since 2019, and the drugs that aren’t stopped are making their way to Montana. Here’s a staggering stat, Montana Highway Patrol, in the first half of 2023 seized enough fentanyl to kill 300,000 people. That’s nearly a third of our entire state.”
In a press release, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who is the chairman of the committee, said, “Fentanyl — a potent synthetic opioid — is contributing to a rapid rise in opioid-related deaths across the country, and Native communities are getting hit extra hard. We have to listen to Native leaders, organizations, and health care professionals and support Native-led solutions to fight fentanyl in their homelands and surrounding communities.”
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, added, “American Indian and Alaska Native populations had the highest drug overdose rates in both 2020 and 2021. Expert witnesses from Native communities shared how tribal leaders and Native health experts are responding to the crisis. I thank the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium for their testimony on the impacts to Alaska Natives and for recommending ways to provide better intervention, treatment and prevention.”
Earlier in the week, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., noted the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Rocky Mountain Division report stating nearly 350,000 dosage units of fentanyl, enough to kill one-third of the state’s population, were seized in Montana’s six most highly trafficked counties.
After the report’s release, Rosendale called for the impeachment of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“Sec. Mayorkas’ open-border policies have killed over 60 Montanans just this year and allowed enough fentanyl to flow into Montana that can kill 1/3 of our state’s population,” Rosendale said. “This invasion at our border and chemical attack on our country must stop, which is why I am calling for an immediate vote on the resolution to impeach Sec. Mayorkas and end this administration’s America last agenda.”