MAMA fights back
Like her uncle, Guy Dull Knife, Jr., Julee Richards is also literally taking it to the streets. Frustrated by what she calls her own denial and feelings of powerlessness five years ago when her eldest daughter fell victim to meth, Richards researched the drug and started frequenting a popular park to conduct education and outreach to youth in her hometown of Pine Ridge. “And as my daughter kept falling deeper into addiction,” says Richards. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I go to where the problem starts?’ There are meth dealers here (on Pine Ridge.) Part of our traditional law is public shaming. That’s what our ancestors did. So, I started publicly shaming the meth dealers. I would put their names on my Facebook page. I would tell the community. I was really public about it.”
She’s confronted and photographed dealers and made countless calls to a chronically understaffed police department that bears heavy workloads. Together with her children, sisters Rosie Beane and Olowan Martinez and cousin Garry Janis, Richards conducts rallies and four-direction walks in Pine Ridge and throughout the districts on the reservation, at times holding signs reading “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” and “Choose Life, Not Meth.” “We started doing the walks to let the people know that meth is here,” says Richards. “We meet at the fourway, do prayers, walk and have presenters who’ve overcome their meth addiction. Real, raw stories.”
In time Richards formed MAMA, Mothers Against Meth Alliance, a grassroots action and advocacy organization. “I set this program up to help meth addicts and their families as a support system because you know people are, understandably, really angry and frustrated with meth addicts. The families are overwhelmed and need help getting them into treatment.” Two months ago, it was incorporated into a 501(c)(3). Operating fully on donations, Richards wants MAMA to gain self-sufficiency. The mission is broad. Community members call on Richards for everything from visiting schools to interventions for addiction and the sexual and spousal abuse that often accompany meth use. She’s aided sex-traffic victims, helped kids apply to school, and been invited to Navajo Territory to help set up a MAMA chapter.
The 2016 death of 13-year-old Te’Ca Clifford, shot on Main Street in Pine Ridge Village, galvanized Richards to create a safehouse for kids. Next on her agenda is spreading awareness at elderly meal programs throughout the reservation districts. “Elderly mothers and fathers are getting evicted after (their homes) testing positive for meth after a swab test,” says Richards. “But the elderly people don’t know what meth is.”
Richards’ outspokenness has come with repercussions. She says she’s received threats and harassment, had her car windows broken out, had a gun held to her head by a family member. “We’re going to keep doing what we have to do,” says Richards. “We let the dealers know, we’re out to save these kids, we’re out to save our people, we’re tired of it.”
For more information, see MothersAgainstMeth.org