- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is chairing a congressional field hearing on the Wind River Indian Reservation next week to hear testimony on how drugs are harming Native American communities.

Barrasso, R-Wyo., is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and his office said he will be the only member of Congress at the hearing.

Mike Danylak, Barrasso’s press secretary on the committee, said tribal and law enforcement officials will testify on the topic of drugs in general and said the hearing is not tied to particular legislation.

The Wind River Indian Reservation is home to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. It was one of four reservations nationwide that the federal government selected between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2012 for a law enforcement surge, or sharp increase in police presence, in an effort to reduce crime.

Over the past decade, the 2.2-million-acre reservation has seen repeated federal prosecutions that authorities say have busted up methamphetamine distribution rings. Yet officials say meth and other drugs remain a problem there.

Gary Collins, a Northern Arapaho member, said he plans to attend the hearing but is not on the agenda to speak.

“I think drugs are an issue, marijuana’s pretty common,” said Collins, who until recently served as a liaison between the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Wyoming state government. “We’ve had a couple of drug busts in the past, on the heavy-duty stuff, meth and cocaine.”

Collins said he believes there’s been some complacency about drugs on the reservation since the law enforcement surge. “I think it’s good to have the hearing to accentuate the interest,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s to accentuate a rampant problem, because most reservations are in the same boat.”

Darwin St. Clair, Jr., chairman of the business council of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, is scheduled to speak at the hearing. Attempts to reach him for comment Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said Tuesday his office tracks deaths county-wide and doesn’t have separate figures for the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“As far as drug or alcohol related deaths, in Fremont County on a regular basis, alcohol is number one, and prescription drugs are number two,” Stratmoen said.

Drug-related deaths in the county peaked in 2012, Stratmoen said. He said there 19 that year attributable to pharmaceutical drugs, two from methamphetamine and 11 from other drugs. Last year, he said the numbers were down to nine from pharmaceuticals, one from meth and two from other drugs.

Christopher Crofts, United States Attorney for the District of Wyoming, is set to speak at the hearing, along with other federal law enforcement officials. A spokesman for Crofts’ office said he declined comment in advance of the hearing.

Andrew Hanson, a special agent with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation in Riverton, is on a panel to speak at the hearing.

“Obviously, we’re excited for the opportunity to express what we believe is a daily concern with the drug activity that is occurring throughout the state of Wyoming, but particularly on Indian land,” Kebin Haller, deputy director of DCI, said Tuesday.

Haller said very pure, highly addictive methamphetamine is available throughout Wyoming, including on the reservation.

“We are aware that quantities are being trafficked into Fremont County, out on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and then they’re immediately broken down and distributed,” Haller said. He said DCI partners with federal law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The hearing is from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, March 31, at the Wyoming Tech Center at Wyoming Indian High School in Ethete.

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