The Road to Recovery

Blackfeet Chemical Dependency Center


“I would say that a safe guess would probably be about 75 % of the clientele that we have treated in that age bracket [18 to 30 yrs] have tried or are addicted to methamphetamines.  It is that high,” stated Herman White Grass, Montana state certified chemical dependency counselor at the Blackfeet chemical dependency center.  The Blackfeet chemical dependency center is an in-patient treatment for Native Americans in Browning, Montana.  In in-patient treatment, the drug abusers live at the center during the beginning stages of treatment. 

Most of the people who come in for treatment have problems with alcohol.  However, it is difficult to estimate the exact number of meth users that come in because many times meth abuse is part of poly-substance abuse, where the patient is addicted to not just one substance such as meth, but also another such as alcohol. 

Fred Cobell, administrator of the treatment center said, “We have cases where they [patients] didn’t score out in their assessment as addicted to meth but after they were here for a while in group they did admit they were addicted to meth.”  Because meth abuse is a relatively new phenomenon, perhaps drug users are ashamed and hesitant to admit to the problem according to Cobell.

Surviving Society’s Temptations

In-patient treatment


“If a person has never had the treatment experience then they need in-patient to get away from temptations in society,” explained Whitegrass. The facility is equipped for 20 patients but usually houses 18 patients with two extra beds for emergency situations. In-patient treatment can last anywhere from 14 to 90 days.  In some cases the treatment center has made extensions.  After people complete in-patient treatment, they move right into the aftercare part of the treatment, which is an extension of in-patient treatment. 

In aftercare treatment they live at home and come into the center for services and groups lasting 12 weeks. Those twelve weeks are not the end; treatment still continues. Whitegrass observed, “Your treatment never ends once you start.  Treatment goes in phases.  In-patient, aftercare, and then ongoing treatment until you die.”

Treatment the Traditional Way

The Blackfeet Chemical Dependency Center also combines traditional beliefs with treatment.  Whitegrass explained, “We allow our patients to go to sweats, out in the community.  Every morning they burn sage, they smudge, they have a feelings group tradition.  Here we have to really watch what we do traditionally because we have people who are referred from other reservations, from different tribes.   Each tribe does its spiritual things a little bit different, so out of respect we have to do that.”  Whitegrass says that some patients may choose not to participate in traditional healing, “but that is okay.”

The Fate of Our Future Leaders

            The Blackfeet chemical dependency center also has an adolescent program.  They do not have anywhere to house the adolescent clientele, so the kids are usually sent to Spokane, Washington, or to Oregon, or to one of the treatment centers in eastern Montana. Youth then can come back and do aftercare at the center. 

The adolescent program tries to organize monthly workshops all year long with fun activities for the young people.  Herman Whitegrass said, “I think we need to do more for our adolescents, not only as a treatment center but as a community.  Many tribal council members say that our kids are our most valuable natural resource. They are our natural resource, and they are our future.  But I do believe we need to put those words into action and start proving it and start doing more for our children, because if they are going to be our leaders, then they need to be clean and sober.  I am not getting any younger.  I want some good leaders out there with good clear minds so that they can fight for our rights as Native Americans.”

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