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'Famous Dave' Anderson: Alcohol, drug abuse on reservations is preventable tragedy

Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave's, speaks to a group of students about success Wednesday at the Wagner Community School. (Chris Huber/Republic)

WAGNER -- Dave Anderson condemned alcohol and drug use on American Indian reservations following a motivational speech Wednesday to students at the Wagner Community School.

The school has a significant population of Indian students from the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

The Daily Republic interviewed Anderson, an Indian himself and the founder of Famous Dave's barbecue restaurants, after he concluded his address to students gathered from Wagner, Lake Andes, Mitchell Technical Institute and the University of South Dakota.

He believes all Indians need to be alcohol- and drug-free.

"What's happening in our communities is a tragedy that is absolutely preventable," he said. "We need parents to care enough about the future of our people to commit to living sober lives."

He also believes there should be stiffer penalties for tribal members who deal drugs on reservations.

"I'm a believer that if you're dealing drugs, you should be banned and your membership should be taken away," he said. "There's nothing more tragic than to have young people die because of drug abuse."

Drug abuse and violence has hit the Wagner area hard recently. Monday night, a man was shot and killed near the tribal community of Marty, in an incident that allegedly involved alcohol. In July, Reilee Lovell, a 2-year-old girl, died in Wagner while under the care of an Indian couple who were reported to be under the influence of methamphetamines. Lovell's death sparked awareness of the meth problem in the area and motivated increased enforcement efforts by police.

The Wagner school and community are dealing with the issues well, according to Susan Smit, superintendent of the Wagner Community School.

"Every community has concerns," she said. "There is a collaborative effort organized by the hospital that has brought people from the community -- native and non-native -- together to work on issues facing us."

In the wake of the two recent deaths, Smit said she doesn't believe any students at her school have had their emotional needs neglected. The relationships between students and staff are "phenomenal," she said.

"There isn't a student in the school that can't connect with someone," she added.

She said the school's goal in dealing with adversity facing students is to provide the best possible education, a clean and healthy environment, safe transportation and healthy food.

"It's never going to be perfect, but I agree with Dave that good enough is never good enough," she said.