The decade of the “80’s produced the beginnings of a long-needed counter-attack on the growing menace of alcohol and other drug abuse in the Native American populations in both Indian Reservations and in urban areas where Indians have migrated.
This counter-attack was funded by the federal government through the Indian Health Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
As the 90’s begin, some of the Reservations have treatment facilities for those who choose to recover, and in urban areas there are agencies to serve this population.
Of great significance was the recognition in the mid-80’s by the Indian Health Services that a prevention program for children would be essential. As a result, BABES (for Beginning Alcohol and Addictions Basic Education Studies) has been presented by hundreds of Indian adults to thousands of Indian children. And the activity grows both on reservations and in urban centers with large Native American populations.
From Bemidji, in northern Minnesota near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, James Brown coordinates the alcohol and other drug abuse programs for Indians in four states – Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.
He oversees annual expenditures of $5 million, serves an Indian population of 50,000, and for several years, he has arranged annually for the training of a group of 20 adults to become BABES presenters.
Like the 11 other people in similar posts in other sectors of the country, he seeks to balance services and be responsive to the dozens of requests that arise from agents and agencies in his area.
When Indian Health Services in Washington first called his attention to BABES in 1984, Brown decided to invest some of the available prevention education dollars into a training for 20 adults in Wisconsin.
That he was satisfied by the results is evident from subsequent actions: arranging for five more trainings.
Further, he began to spread the word about BABES to coordinators of other areas and now there are BABES Presenters for Native American children from coast to coast.
Two who are near to Bemidji are John Barrett and Lee Lussier, Chippewa serving in the Red Lake Reservation Substance Abuse Center about 50 miles northwest of Bemidji.
Besides going into three schools where they teach BABES lessons to early elementary children, when school is out in the summer time, they go to camps to present.
‘We enjoy doing it and the kids enjoy,” Barrett said. “We get lots of good feedback and sometimes, after we do the Rhonda Rabbit story, a child will talk about being abused. We know we’ve saved some children a lot of pain.”
They estimate the have reached 7,000 children in five years.
That’s a bunch – but a small one compared to all the children served thru James Brown’s initiative.