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NSU Researcher: Drug Cartels See Indian Country as an Easy Target

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A researcher at Northeastern State University found drug cartels are more frequently operating in Indian Country.

Amy Proctor surveyed police, social service and health leaders in 10 tribes near known drug corridors or known to be struggling with meth. Her findings: Tribal officials know cartels are trafficking drugs and often use casinos to facilitate it through money laundering and human trafficking, tribal law enforcement is generally shorthanded, and drug abuse is still a significant problem.

"It's just kind of the perfect storm to create that environment that's conducive to the drug cartels coming in and doing their business," Proctor said.

Those surveyed told Proctor drug trafficking leads to increased crime on tribal lands, as well as higher rates of elder abuse and neglect.

Despite a dire report, Proctor is optimistic things can change.

"The social-service providers and the law enforcement that are in these communities are determined to fight the problem and work with other agencies and drive the cartel out," Proctor said. "They don't want the cartel there."

A major problem identified in Proctor's report is law enforcement can’t keep up with cartel activity. Proctor said more boots on the ground isn’t the only thing that’s needed.

"They need housing for those boots on the ground. They need to be able to pay better wages," Proctor said. "And if we have a presence, if we have a trust in the law enforcement by the community — they see the law enforcement is capable — then they're more likely to report. They're more likely to assist in investigations."

Proctor set out to determine the nature, extent and effects of meth trafficking and distribution in Indian Country and attempted to interview officials from 23 tribes.