In the past seven months, three teenagers and two 11-year-olds on the Flathead Reservation have died alcohol-related deaths. It has been an immensely sad period for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, but the tribes gathered to create something positive out of a negative during a five-mile, 200-person alcohol-awareness march down Hwy. 93 from Ronan to Pablo on Wed., May 19.
Aside from the march, a primary response to the deaths has been the implementation of a stricter curfew. Children and adolescents must now be home by midnight on weekends and 10 p.m. on week days, says Ronan City Council member Cal Hardy. Before, the curfew was 1 a.m. on weekends. With the new curfew comes a siren. Attached to a 40-foot pole near Arnie’s Gas and Tire, the curfew siren issues a series of chimes, as opposed to a fire-drill wail, and can be heard throughout most of Ronan.
Whether the siren will be effective in curbing underage drinking remains to be seen.
Nick Pierre, a sophmore at Pablo’s Two Eagles High School who was friends with 14-year-old Tyler Benoist and 11-year-old Justin Benoist, both of whom died alcohol-related deaths recently, has mixed feelings about the siren.
“In a way it’s good, because kids will be home and safe,” Pierre says. “But it kind of sucks.”
Pierre says that some kids will still find ways to sneak out, but will have to “hide like they’ve never hidden before.”
For Gale Eneas, a full-blooded Kootenai and parent who marched down 93 with Pierre, the issue goes beyond curfews to the ways in which a community responds to children.
“When I was young, everybody looked out for each other’s kids,” Eneas says. “We have gotten away from that. Not just Indians, but whites too.”
Although sirens haven’t been part of traditional Indian life, tribal elder Jerry Brown sees the new device in a historical context.
“When things are going wrong, we make them better,” Brown says. “So this siren is tradition, too.”