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Lummi Nation leader urges Biden to declare national fentanyl emergency

Chairman Anthony Hillaire said action will remove barriers, help tribes combat crisis

Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Anthony Hillaire
Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Anthony Hillaire
By Isaac Stone Simonelli Enterprise/Investigations Reporter

The leader of the Lummi Nation called on President Joe Biden to declare a national fentanyl emergency during a Tribal Nations summit at the White House on Thursday, Dec. 7.

A national state of emergency would help remove barriers that hinder Tribal Nations’ abilities to act in the face of a crisis that at Lummi Nation is killing more people than COVID-19, said Chairman Anthony Hillaire.

“These are our relatives, this isn’t just a stat or data,” Hillaire said during the panel on mental health and substance use in tribal communities. “These are people we grow up with — these are our mothers and fathers, our children and grandchildren — that are dying in overwhelming amounts due to fentanyl overdose.”

Biden signed an executive order on Dec. 6 aimed at making it easier for tribal governments to access federal funds and have greater autonomy on how they’re used.

The order requires federal agencies to ensure funding for tribes is accessible, flexible and equitable, as well as creating a “one-stop-shop” for federal funding available to tribes.

Additionally, it tasks the federal government with measuring “chronic funding shortfalls of existing federal funding for tribes and developing recommendations for what additional funding and programming is necessary.”

Hillaire said in a panel discussion that the executive order was a step in the right direction.

He went on to underscore that Tribal Nations best understand the care that their people need, including using traditional medicine and Indigenous knowledge.

“We’re overcoming this historic trauma and the genocide that has happened to us, and our need to decolonize,” Hillaire said. “It takes a lot of time. Given our track record, given the amount that we do across the nation, it should be a no-brainer to trust that tribes know how to take care of ourselves.”

The Lummi Nation has already taken steps toward combating fentanyl in the community. In September, the Lummi Indian Business Council declared an emergency over the fentanyl crisis.

In October, Cascadia Daily News reported Lummi police were stopping traffic at checkpoints randomly, day and night, on the reservation after at least seven tribal members died of overdose during two weeks in late September. 

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