The theme of Thursday's empowerment luncheon at Rocky Boy's Stone Child College was "Rise Above the Influence," and many speakers were present to share how they did just that.
Bruce Myers, who is running for the state House as a Republican, was the main organizer of the event.
The luncheon was the latest in a series of community meetings set up by Myers to address the drug problem at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and Box Elder.
"We've already lost a whole generation," Myers said to the community members and officials gathered at Cennewash Hall on the SCC campus. " ... The next best thing we can do for our people ... is focus on our youth."
Videos created by students at Rocky Boy and Box Elder high schools were shown at the meeting. The videos were essentially public service announcements about drug awareness, prevention and abstinence that Myers said will be the basis for videos he hopes to show during previews at Cottonwood Cinema 4.
Representatives from the Great Falls Youth Alliance, which is an anti-drug organization, also spoke Thursday about their program. They have produced a similar PSA like the one Myers hopes to put in theaters, and they said they have had a good response to it.
Rich Jespersen and Rachel Dean of the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line spoke and had the audience take part in an exercise in which they had to think of someone they know between the ages of 13 and 18 and then stand along an imaginary line in the room. One point of the line represented constant drug or alcohol use and the other represented complete abstinence. The audience members stood along the line in a place where they thought the people they were thinking of would measure. Jesperson then asked them why they thought their person would fall in that place.
Dean told the audience after the exercise that those younger than 21 had a 1 in 4 chance of developing an addiction after using drugs. Those older than 21 have a 1 in 20 chance.
"Addiction is a health problem and it's not something you get to choose," Dean said. "It chooses you."
After Dean and Jespersen left the microphone, community members and educators from the area got up to speak about their own experiences with drugs, alcohol and users of both.
Terry Stump, a Rocky Boy resident, said this was her sixth year being drug- and alcohol-free. She said she stopped because she wanted to create a better environment for her family.
Helen Parker, an elder of SCC, also spoke at the meeting.
"I don't pretend to know everything," Parker said. "But I've been through a lot of challenges in my life."
She spoke of the importance of education and youth not using while they are young. The youth must acquire an education and help themselves, because many others have their own issues, she said.
Parker added that youth should not imbibe in alcohol when they are at such a young age because their minds are developing and alcohol hinders their growth.
"It affects your brain," Parker said. "It affects your mind."
An emphasis on the powers of social media was also a theme of the meeting. Myers said he wants to create a movement of social media to combat drugs and alcohol in youth - namely, a Facebook page.
"I think it went really well," Myers said after the four-hour luncheon. "These kids got the message. They know the dangers of drugs."
Myers said that as awareness in children about the effects of drugs and alcohol increases, their rate of use is inversely correlated.
"I think in terms of reaching this next generation, it shows that (awareness programs and statistics) demonstrate over and over again that awareness works," Myers said.
He added that it is important to get kids drug-free because their peers are more likely to listen to them than to adults and elders.
"Many adults think they speak youth," Myers said. "But, only youth speak youth."
Myers said he hopes to begin a program like the Great Falls Youth Alliance for the Hi-Line region to combat the high levels of drug use in the area, not just in Rocky Boy and Box Elder.
"For all of our kids, where there is addiction, there is no race," Myers said. " ... Our kids should be so precious that we should be willing to do anything."