A year and half ago, Gabe Stewart stood in tribal court pleading guilty to felony charges because he stole money from his family to support his opioid addiction. In January, his community honored him for overcoming addiction and watched as his case was dismissed entirely.
Stewart is a member of the Penobscot Nation in Maine, a state hit hard by the opioid crisis. American indigenous communities like his are also some of the hardest hit, with overdose deaths for rural American Indians and Alaska Natives rising by 519 percent between 1999 and 2015, more than double the increase nationally.
When Stewart faced felony charges related to his addiction to Percocet, he was able to benefit from his tribe’s unique approach to addiction. Recognizing that issues with substance abuse in native communities often arise from intergenerational trauma, the Penobscot Nation attempts to reacquaint criminal drug offenders with tribal traditions and cultural practices to help them make a full recovery.
Tribal members who commit substance abuse-related crimes can enter a program called the Healing to Wellness Court, which operates something like a traditional drug court but offers a cultural curriculum.
VICE News followed Stewart on his last day in the Healing to Wellness Court.
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