- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

NEW TOWN, N.D. (AP) - Connie Rae Azure “hit rock bottom” before she decided to turn her life around and away from drugs. Azure, of New Town, is the first person to participate in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation District Court’s new Warriors of the 21st Century Program. Seven other people have joined the program since Azure.

The program, developed by Chief Judge Diane Johnson, and funded and supported by the Three Affiliated Tribes’ business council, began in October 2014. Azure joined the program shortly after.

“I’m really appreciative to the tribal business council for finding it in their hearts to take care of us,” Azure told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1GHVy02 ).

Johnson said, “The purpose of the program is for our tribal members to recapture the hopes and dreams they once had for their lives: to set them up for success by putting them in their preferred choice of employment and by paying them a decent wage; to regain respect from their loved ones and community; and, to serve as mentors to young tribal members of the MHA Nation. In order to prevent our youth from becoming addicted to illegal drugs, and to become aware of the tactics used by drug traffickers, the mentorship program is a key element to the Warriors of the 21st Century Program.”

Currently limited to 10 people, the program was created during Randy Phelan’s tenure as Judicial Committee chairman. Phelan, tribal business council representative from Mandaree, was one of the first people to strongly support the program.

The hardest hit district for drug trafficking on the Fort Berthold Reservation, besides New Town, is the Mandaree segment, said Johnson.

Azure said she heard about the program through a mutual friend and contacted the court that she wanted to be in the program. She said she was losing hope until she learned about this program that works to get those who suffer with addiction, even though they have legal issues, to get back into the workforce.

To participate in the program, she said, “You have to have been in trouble, have an addiction and struggled with drugs,”

Azure said the program is “incredible” also offers ongoing addiction counseling. “It’s a therapeutic approach it entails culture, spiritualism and mentoring,” Azure said. “In turn, we are required to go out to the schools and mentor the kids in drug prevention.”

Program coordinators are Judy Yessilith in New Town and Charles Hale in Bismarck.

Azure, who has a master’s degree in business administration and the former housing director for the Three Affiliated Tribes, started down the road of drugs five years ago.

“I struggled with drugs since 2010 when the oil boom hit,” Azure said. She said two of the most powerful drugs, meth and heroin, hit the reservation like a tsunami after the oil boom hit.

After losing her brother in 2010, Azure said she got caught up in drugs and lost everything to them, first her home, then custody of her children and then her freedom when she was sent to jail on drug charges.

Azure’s home was bulldozed in 2012 to remove a drug dealer from it. “My house is the one that made the national news in the New Town hostage situation. There was a drug dealer holding up hostage in my house,” she said.

“After my house got demoed and I ended up getting indicted in a conspiracy on drug charges, I sat for eight months in jail and then after that I went to treatment,” she said. Azure was in jail in Rugby from June 2013 until getting out Feb. 24, 2014.

“I cleaned up my act ever since that. It wasn’t easy. Everybody knew me and I had a bad reputation because of what happened with the house and stuff,” she said.

But trying to get back in the workforce was a problem. “A lot of doors were shut in my face because of my past, even though I have a good education,” she said. “I have an MBA and I’ve always had a good career except when I got involved in drugs,” she said. She was the Three Affiliated Tribes’ housing director for a number of years.

“After I got on drugs I basically lost everything, family, my career, my home, the kids, then when I went to jail I lost my freedom. I lost a lot of things for drugs. I really hit rock bottom,” she said.

Today, she said she’s off drugs. “I’m completely sober since June 30, 2013,” she said. “I just stay clean. I want to stay clean.”

“When I heard about this program I was the first one to go to the courthouse and inquire about it,” Azure said.

Azure really likes the mentoring part of the Warriors of the 21st Century Program. “It’s awesome,” she said. “There’s no better feeling than to go in the schools, tell your story and try to help other kids and prevent them from going down the road that you went down,” she said.

Johnson said when Azure has become a true Warrior of the 21st Century. She said when Azure speaks to students at schools she has received standing ovations and has children running and reaching out to hug her, and brought tears to those in the audience.

So far, participants in the program have spoken to students in White Shield and Mandaree, and next will be New Town.

Azure, who is currently living with her mother, said she’s working on getting another home for herself. She’s back together with her children who range from ages 4 to 22 years.

Though the Warriors of the 21st Century Program, Azure is working with MHA Tomorrow, a people’s initiative to develop a strategic plan for the Three Affiliated Tribes, coordinated by Ed Hall. At some time, she said she’d like to get back into housing and business development.

Azure said she’s grateful to Johnson for the program. “A lot of our people would rather shun us and talk down on us than try to help. You are an angel sent by the Creator. Thank you for everything you do,” she said.

“Meth and heroin addiction is affecting our tribal members at an unprecedented rate. This represents a new battle, in a new era, and it is solely up to us as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation to rebuild the lives of our people,” Johnson said.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland, of Bismarck, said at a hearing for an MHA Nation tribal member, “The Warriors of the 21st Century Program is one of the best programs we’ve seen.”

“It’s been a tough road but where there’s once hopelessness, there’s hope,” Azure said of the program.


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com



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