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May 14, 2018 3:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecock Nation Joins Other Native American Tribes In Fight Against Opioid Manufacturers

Lance Gumbs, a Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal Trustee who recently lost his son to an opioid overdose, announced that the Shinnecock Nation will be suing pharmaceutical companies that manufactured opioids.    DANA SHAW
May 14, 2018 4:13 PM

At a candlelight vigil held to remember those lost to the opioid epidemic on Saturday evening at Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays, community members shared the stories of the people they loved and lost to drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Among them was Shinnecock Tribal Council member Lance Gumbs, whose 36-year-old son, NaKea Lance Gumbs-Perry, died of a fentanyl overdose in September 2017.

Among the many raw emotions he still feels after the recent death of his son, Mr. Gumbs said, is anger at those responsible. He said can no longer stand by and watch drugs take over the lives of people in his community.

He is ready for a fight.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation recently joined dozens of other Native American tribes across the country in the Alliance for Tribal Justice, through which tribes are preparing to take on pharmaceutical companies over their role in the manufacturing, sale and distribution of opioids—drugs that include fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin.

In a pending lawsuit, the alliance intends to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“I’m making darn well sure that the Shinnecocks’ voice is heard all across this country with these pharmaceutical companies,” he said at Saturday’s vigil. “They’re going to know who we are.”

In an interview, Mr. Gumbs said the opioid epidemic is not just affecting the Shinnecock Nation but is attacking Native American communities across the country.

Many times, he said, adults get hooked on drugs from a simple prescription. It begins as a prescription to relieve pain, but by the time the prescription runs out, the person is addicted, forcing them to turn to heroin or other street drugs. “It’s like a chain reaction,” Mr. Gumbs said.

The alliance that the Shinnecock Nation is now a part of plans to go after the money that pharmaceutical companies have made from selling the addictive drugs. If victorious, it plans to put the money into programs to educate tribal members of the dangers of opioids, and to offer treatment and preventative programs.

The money also will go to any other measures to treat members for their addiction, taking care of the children of parents who overdose, and funeral costs, among other things.

In a press release, the Shinnecock Nation said it would argue that it has “suffered economic loss arising from the costs of providing medical care, counseling and rehabilitative services, welfare and foster care services, and the law enforcement and public safety needs that inevitably accompany the opioid epidemic.”

As Mr. Gumbs spoke on Saturday, he stressed to those at the vigil that the opioid crisis was much bigger than the Shinnecock Nation and the Town of Southampton. “This has no community boundaries,” he said. “All it is, is a life-consuming entity that is manmade, and, as such, it is something we can fight. But we can’t fight it by being silent.”

Mr. Gumbs said he thought of his son as “a healthy young man who was full of life” and “full of vigor.” But then, one day, he got a call that his son was gone. He told those standing around a circle of candles that he recently learned that his son, who did not have a history of opioid abuse, had died of an overdose of fentanyl, which had been mixed with marijuana he had smoked.

“I’m at a loss for words in terms for what happened in my personal life with my son,” Mr. Gumbs said. “It’s hard to accept what has happened. But it’s also made me extremely angry.”

He said on Saturday that Shinnecock tribal members believe it is their responsibility to take care of the seventh generation after theirs.

When his son died, Mr. Gumbs’s mother, Harriett “Starleaf” Crippen Brown Gumbs, who is 97 years old, had to bury her grandson. Mr. Gumbs said most people in the tribe have the chance to see six generations, but not the seventh generation, because they do not live long enough.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of those unborn and those unseen, and how we do that is by continuing to fight every single day,” he said.

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