Despair, Hope and Healing in Washington’s Indian Country: A Photo Essay

By Daniel Konstantino

In Sequim, Washington, Jamestown S’Klallam tribal member Joshua Carver, 28, was prescribed pain pills for a football injury in high school and soon became addicted. He spent months in recovery and is now working full time as a construction manager and raising his infant son, Jameson, with his girlfriend (middle). His sister (left) also struggled with addiction. In 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors wrote nearly 102 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents in Clallam County—higher than the number of prescriptions in some areas of Appalachia.

Carver’s younger sister, Hannah Barclay, said she also battled opioid addiction and successfully worked through a recovery program. Now 27, she works at the tribe’s casino. “It’s hard because when you’re chemically imbalanced… I didn’t care about anything at that point other than getting high,” she said.

With a combination of tribal resources and state funds, Jamestown S’Klallam is pushing to open an innovative healing center for people struggling with addiction. The center in Sequim would combine medication-assisted treatment with behavioral healthcare and traditional Native American methods. The Priest family supports the center. Here, Joshua Carver smiles at his son, Jameson, in the family home a few miles from the proposed center.

Jamestown S’Klallam tribal descendant Vicki Wallner, whose family has lived in Sequim for five generations, said she watched her son grow addicted to prescription painkillers after he injured his back in high school while working in a supermarket. Over time, she said, she began to prepare for the possibility that her son would suffer a fatal overdose. He went on to work toward recovery.

“You feel like you did everything right, and there’s a point in time where you look at this person and you see a stranger,” said Wallner, whose son has been in recovery for four years. “I think that’s the hardest part, seeing a stranger and not being able to do anything about it.”

Opioid abuse has also struck the Swinomish reservation, about 120 miles north of Sequim. There, tribal leaders have established a healing and recovery center that is generating widespread interest from other tribes and health experts, including the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. Rita Boome-Revey lives in a recovery house operated by the Swinomish tribe. She said five of her children are in various states of addiction and recovery.
Boome-Revey, recovering from opioid abuse, said she wanted to set a good example for her children.
Boome-Revey, a mother of five, lost her youngest daughter to foster care. Boome-Revey said she wanted her daughter to live in a stable home.
In his 14 years as Clallam County sheriff, Bill Benedict said he has watched opioid abuse touch the lives of hundreds of people.

"There is the sickness, misery and even death by overdose of those afflicted, coupled with the sorrow and loss felt by families and friends. The economic costs are huge— lost wages, lost opportunities and the costs associated with many opioid-related crimes, such as burglary, theft and shoplifting. Illegal sales of heroin in Clallam County probably exceed $15 million a year. Property losses due to burglaries and thefts exceed $5 million a year. This is a lot of grief, sorrow and misery for a rural county with a population of 75,000."

Debbie Cenziper

Debbie Cenziper is an associate professor and the director of investigative reporting at Medill. She also oversees the Medill Investigative Lab. Besides teaching, Cenziper is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and nonfiction author who writes for The Washington Post. She spent three years at The George Washington University before joining the faculty of Medill.

Over the years, Cenziper’s investigative stories have exposed wrongdoing, prompted Congressional hearings and led to changes in federal and local laws. In her classes at Medill, Cenziper and her students focus on social justice investigative reporting.

Cenziper has won dozens of awards in American print journalism, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for reporting about human rights and the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from Harvard University. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 at The Miami Herald for a series of stories about corrupt affordable housing developers who were stealing from the poor. A year before that, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for stories about dangerous breakdowns in the nation’s hurricane-tracking system.

Cenziper is a frequent speaker at universities, writing conferences and book events. Her first book, “Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality,” (William Morrow, 2016) was named one of the most notable books of the year by The Washington Post. Her second book, “Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America,” was released by Hachette Books in November 2019.

Cenziper is based on Medill’s Washington, D.C. campus, working with undergraduate and graduate students on investigative stories.