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Drunken Indians

Kickapoo Joy Juice

The stereotype

[The Goshoot Indians are] savages who, when asked if they have the common Indian belief in a Great Spirit show a something which almost amounts to emotion, thinking whisky is referred to....

Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872

The reality

Concerning the temperance of the Wild Indian, Catlin writes, in 1832:

Every kind of excess is studiously avoided.

Amongst the wild Indians in this country, there are no beggars -- no drunkards -- and every man, from a beautiful natural precept, studies to keep his body and mind in such a healthy shape and condition as will, at all times, enable him to use his weapons in self-defense, or struggle for the prize in their manly games. (Catlin, Vol. I., p. 123.)

And, how was it he fell from these high ideals? Alas! we know too well. G. B. Grinnell has sent me a record which, in one form or another, might have been made about every western tribe. The Reverend Moses Merrill, a missionary among the Oto Indians from 1832 to the beginning of 1840, kept a diary from which the following account is taken:

April 14, 1837. Two men from a trading expedition in the Indian country called on me today. They state that one half of the furs purchased in the Indian country are obtained in exchange for whiskey. They also stated that the Shiennes, a tribe of Indians on the Platte River, were wholly averse to drinking whiskey, but, five years ago -- now (through the influence of a trader, Captain Gant, who, by sweetening the whiskey, induced them to drink the intoxicating draught), they are a tribe of drunkards. (Trans. and Repts. Nebraska State Historical Society, IV, p. 181.)

Ernest Thompson Seton, "Chapter II:  The Spartans of the West," The Book of Woodcraft, 1912

The building of the transcontinental railroad, the destruction of the buffalo, and the resulting Plains Indian Wars devastated the Plains Indian culture. Confined to reservations and forbidden to hunt, they became wards of the federal government, reliant on sporadically delivered welfare for their very survival. This new reality plunged the American Plains Indian into a state of cultural shock and poverty ripe for the spread of alcoholism. Subsequent Government policy, whether it be attempts to create reservations, disband reservations, assimilate Indians, or to obliterate Indian culture created an astonishing range of Native American social pathologies associated with alcohol that continue to the present day. Euro-Americans played the multidimensional role of creating this environment, supplying the alcohol, and then perpetuating stereotypes of Indians by identifying alcoholism as a sign of some inherent weakness that justified the centuries of treatment they received and the righteousness of their subjugation.

Michael Barnes, The Ignoble Drunkard:  Indians & Alcohol, Authentic History Center

There are many reasons for Indian alcoholism and Indian shame. The scientists finally are concluding that we are both physiologically and psychologically susceptible to alcoholism. The United States used alcohol as a weapon against our forebears. Well into the 20th century, unscrupulous traders and speculators used alcohol to steal from Indians. These are the predecessors of the Whiteclay liquor storeowners who sell their poison to willing Indian buyers.

Thus the roots of Indian alcoholism are deep, and the current generation of adult Indians bears no special blame for this problem. While we may not be to blame, though, we still have the responsibility to deal with it. It is our problem to solve. If we wait for the State of Nebraska or the United States to solve this problem for us, more generations of Indian people will be killed by alcohol.

Kevin Gover, It's Our Shame That's Killing Us, Indian Country Today, 6/20/02

Goldman has spent years with Southwest American Indian tribes and isolated several genes that he believes put them at great risk for alcoholism. Goldman found that the genetic contribution might be as high as 85% in males in some of the tribes he has studied.

"People are not just making lifestyle choices, or hereditability wouldn't be so high," Goldman said. "I don't know why people have a problem calling [alcoholism] a disease. Clogged arteries exist because of choices made about eating Twinkies. No one says it isn't heart disease."

Jamie Talan, "The Search for Genetic Keys to Alcoholism," LA Times, 5/21/01

Rates of alcoholism among American Indians may have been exaggerated in earlier research, according to the first community-based study of the problem.

Lifetime alcoholism rates among American Indian men from two geographic areas were 50 percent higher than national rates, but fell far short of previous reports that 70 percent to 80 percent of these men were alcoholics, say Paul Spicer, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and colleagues.

"The rates in this study are indeed quite high and of serious concern to health policy makers and planners, but the prevalence of alcohol dependence is not nearly as high as stereotypes of the drunken Indian may lead people to believe," Spicer says.

Becky Ham, American Indian Drinking Stereotype May Be Inflated, Health Behavior News Service, 11/13/03


More on the stereotype vs. reality

VIEWPOINT:  Getting alcoholism right in Indian Country

By Mike Eshkibok
Published Monday, March 05, 2007

GRAND FORKS — It's true that alcoholism and drug abuse have caused terrible problems for many North American Indians. But it's also true that great numbers of Indians can drink socially (or not drink at all) and not incur serious problems.

For the media, striking a balance between those two facts is central to "getting the story right."

Alcoholism's prevalence among Indians not only has caused enormous physical and emotional problems. It also has led to stereotyping, including in movies as recent and popular as "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Apocalypto." These powerful films depict Indians in a violent or stereotypical way, suggesting that all Indians are afflicted with drug and alcohol problems.

Like all stereotypes, this one is inaccurate because it ignores the uniqueness of each individual. One might expect a more balanced portrayal of Indians in the world of science; but unfortunately, scientific inquiry — with its emphasis on defining and solving problems — has not focused on the vast number of Indians who maintain sober and productive lives.

Then there is the fact that science and the media have focused on Indians living on reservations, even though for decades, the federal government enforced an assimilationist policy that removed Indians from their lands and made their coping mechanisms illegal.

Before European colonization started, Indians were relatively unaffected by alcohol. Although some tribes produced weak beers or other fermented beverages, these generally were used for ceremonial purposes. The distillation of more potent forms of alcohol was unknown.

When European colonists suddenly made large quantities of distilled spirits available, the Indians had little time to develop legal, moral and social procedures to regulate alcohol use. Traders found that providing free alcohol during trading gave them an advantage in their negotiations with Indians. Extreme intoxication was common among the colonists, and was a powerful example for the social use of alcohol among the inexperienced Indian population.

Thus, history may have sown the seeds for the prevalence of alcohol abuse among today's Indians. Early demand, no regulation and strong encouragement likely helped form a "tradition" of heavy alcohol use passed down from generation to generation, which has led to the current high level of alcohol-related problems.

But remember: A "high level" does not mean 100 percent or anything close to it.

Today, educated American Indians themselves must keep this in mind, as they study and testify about the alcoholism rate on reservations, said Monique Vondall-Rieke, director of the Native Media Center at UND.

And "it's important to set the record straight," Vondall-Rieke added.

"When you come from a race of people who have been annihilated, assimilated and culturally stripped of their lifestyles, you are bound to have these social problems and other pitfalls. These social ills are historically proven to be a direct result of the negative attitudes people have taken toward American Indians. I believe we need to address the public relations at home in each American Indian community at the same time we try to help mainstream media to 'get the story right.'"

Unfortunately, stereotypes are all that most Americans use to define Indian people, said Donna Brown, assistant director at UND's American Indian Student Services.

"To dispel stereotypes, people need to take it upon themselves to visit organizations such as the schools, colleges and hospitals on Indian reservations," Brown added.

"They would find that life is not all negative, and that Indian people have goals and hope for the future, just like everyone else."

A personal note: When I was young, I did not know that I suffered from alcoholism, because all of the whites and Indians I knew drank like I did. Today, I have not taken a drink in 25 years. This has made me more aware of alcohol's effects and consequences, and I know today that the answers to my problems lie within me and with the God of my understanding.

I found my answers through Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program. There are a lot of similarities between AA and American Indian culture, especially the parts about sharing and living in the present.

Fighting an addiction can be a lonely journey. Spirituality is the best way I know of to overcome any addiction.

As mentioned above, great numbers of Indians can drink socially and not incur serious problems. But for those Indians who can't, going back to their own culture and traditions that allowed us to survive for tens of thousands of years would be a move in the right direction.

To sum up, what we are saying is this: "Walk a mile in my moccasins before you criticize me."

Eshkibok, an Ojibwe Indian, is a doctoral student at the UND School of Communication.


Jack Chick

Is it cultural...?
From the Arizona Daily Sun:

Nature AND nurture: Alcohol abuse does run in families

Sun Staff Reporter

Shaun R. Price, 21, is accused of the April 5 hit-and-run death of cyclist Matt Kelly. He is also accused of being drunk at the time of the crash, and he has previous felony convictions for driving drunk. His parents also have DUI convictions, and they are currently facing felony DUI charges of their own

What were his chances Price would end up an alcoholic like his parents?

Highly probable, but not a guarantee, say experts. And, the fact that he's Native American has nothing genetically to do with it. The fact that the Navajo Nation has high rates of poverty and joblessness — both "stressors" that contribute to alcohol abuse — is far more relevant, according to research.

Fred Beauvais, Ph. D., senior research scientist at the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research at Colorado State University, has attempted to dispel the presumption that Native Americans are genetically predisposed to be addicted to alcohol.

In his 1998 article "American Indians and Alcohol," archived by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Beauvais began with the prevailing stereotype "that all Indian people are afflicted with alcohol problems."

Also part of that stereotype is that Native Americans can't handle liquor and they developed genetically without the presence of alcohol, unlike the Europeans. The stereotype had its genesis when European colonists first had contact with Native American tribes.

Beauvais, reached by phone at CSU, said the stereotype exists, generally, because, "It's a way of ignoring all the other important factors that contribute to it. It's a way of not fessing up the historical basis of what's gone on with American Indian people."

Despite the persistence of the stereotype, research has not proved it to be true, Beauvais said. The research that's been done, generally, and with some exceptions, indicates fewer Native Americans consume alcohol than whites.

"But those Indians who do consume alcohol seem to do it at a much more outrageous level," he said, adding that alcohol-related traffic deaths and forms of public intoxication are examples.

So the relatively few Native Americans engaged in alcohol-abuse behavior tags the rest of the population with the same pattern.

Why Native Americans drink more at one time could be related to the fact that on a majority of reservations, alcohol is illegal. With alcohol being illegal, Native Americans drink a large amount in a short amount of time to avoid detection, according to Beauvais' article.

Even among researchers specifically looking for proof that Native Americans have a genetic susceptibility to alcohol, that proof is elusive.

According to the abstract of the research article, "Genetic susceptibility and alcoholism in American Indians," published by the NIAAA in 2002, the researchers concluded "that there is a genetic susceptibility in certain individuals and families."

Continued the article's abstract, "Research over decades has not been able to establish a Native American component to vulnerability to alcoholism."

In Price's case, both his parents have histories of alcohol abuse, according to court records.

Just how much sway do genes have in determining alcoholism among individuals and families?

"The research isn't clear either way," said Gwendolyn Swan, a substance abuse counseler for The Guidance Center's intensive outpatient program, and the county's DUI/Drug Court program.

She cited studies that involved identical twins who were reared apart. She said that the studies show that if one twin is an alcoholic, there is an 80-percent chance the other twin will also be alcoholic.

"But genes aren't destiny," she said.

Even with two parents who are alcoholic, some people turn out not to be alcoholic.

"But if you go backward, most alcoholics have an alcoholic parent," Swan said. "What they're inheriting is the tendency to be addicted. So there's more of a push in their genes for developing addictions."

In her work, she's witnessed alcoholics who don't appear to have the gene, and she's witnessed non-alocholics who do have the gene.

Just what that gene is has not been fully identified, Swan said.

"There are many people walking around who have the genes for addiction who don't manifest it," she said. "Therefore, the genetics predisposition's not acted on."

Native Americans aren't "wired" to become alcoholics more than anybody else, she said. And no research that she's aware of says Native Americans metabolize alcohol differently.

"So, I guess the task is to tease out out how much is genetic and how much is from observing their family's drinking and other outside factors," she said.

Some outside factors include stressors such as poverty and unemployment. Swan added that "intrapersonal factors" also play a role — like if a person is shy, or impulsive, is involved in church and school activities, has friends who abstain from alcohol.

"I don't think genes are destiny," Swan said. "You still can choose not to pick up a drink. I think we all have choices."

Jack Chick

Or is it genetic?
Here's the full article from the LA Times, with comments from some correspondents at the end:

The Search for Genetic Keys to Alcoholism

Research: Scientists hope that by understanding the disease better, they can develop more effective treatments.


NEW YORK—Scientists are beginning to unravel the complex relationship between genes and behavior to understand alcohol addiction. The hope is to design treatments to block excessive drinking.

"We have a difficult challenge," said Dr. Enoch Gordis, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, at the centennial anniversary lecture recently at Rockefeller University in Manhattan, where the first methadone program was developed in the 1960s to treat heroin addicts.

Gordis pointed out that alcohol affects every receptor system in the body, making it unlike other drugs, which target only a few key pathways. Alcoholism is very common, affecting about 12 million men and 8 million women in the U.S. A recent count of patients at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore revealed that one-quarter of the beds were filled by people sickened as a consequence of their drinking.

If alcoholism can be inherited, as studies of twins and adopted children have repeatedly shown, then what exactly is passed down? Is it a gene that regulates the brain chemical dopamine that affects how one experiences pleasure? Is it a gene that makes some people less, or more, sensitive to the powerful chemicals that make up alcohol? Is it a gene that modulates preference? Is it a mix of genes and powerful environmental forces?

Scientists are focusing their search on genes that alter brain response and would make people more sensitive to alcohol.

Probably one of the best examples is a gene called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2. Variations of this gene are common in Japan, with some research indicating they can be found in almost 50% of the population. In people with these gene variations, a glass of wine causes such an uncomfortable physiological effect that they do not want to drink. Their cheeks flush, their heart pounds and they feel sick. One of the oldest antidotes to alcoholism is Antabuse, which works on the ALDH2 gene.

"Half the population of Japan is in a natural Antabuse state," said Dr. David Goldman, a leading alcoholism researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Goldman and his colleagues have spent years combing through the genes of populations at risk for alcoholism and identifying risk genes. Each gene identified—about a dozen—has a different effect on the brain and behavior, Goldman said.

These days, his sights are set on a gene called COMT that is turned on in the brain's frontal lobes and is thought to play an important role in impulse control and cognitive function. Goldman is also focusing on genes that regulate serotonin, an important brain chemical that governs many aspects of behavior and emotion. Genes that regulate the brain chemical dopamine and endorphins also have been implicated in alcoholism and drug addiction. Dopamine pathways are active in reward and reinforcement; endorphins are brain chemicals that trigger the feeling of pleasure and reward.

Dr. John Numberger Jr. and his colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatric Research at Indiana University Medical Center identified a strong link on Chromosome 1 that affects both alcoholism and depression. They are still searching for the specific gene or genes involved.

Goldman has spent years with Southwest American Indian tribes and isolated several genes that he believes put them at great risk for alcoholism. Goldman found that the genetic contribution might be as high as 85% in males in some of the tribes he has studied.

"People are not just making lifestyle choices, or hereditability wouldn't be so high," Goldman said. "I don't know why people have a problem calling [alcoholism] a disease. Clogged arteries exist because of choices made about eating Twinkies. No one says it isn't heart disease."

The brains of alcoholics are different, and studies are beginning to address what this may mean for diagnosis, prevention and treatment. In a new study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Mark S. George and his colleagues had 10 alcoholics and 10 social drinkers take a sip of alcohol while hooked up to monitors to measure brain activity. After tasting the alcohol, they were shown pictures of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Only the alcoholics showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and anterior thalamus when looking at pictures of alcohol. These brain areas are involved with emotion, attention and appetite. The control subjects had increased activity in different brain regions.

Federal scientists are also finding distinct gender-related differences among alcoholics. Dr. Daniel Homer of the national alcohol institute took brain scans of men and women, all heavy drinkers, and found that women had greater decreases in the size of a portion of the brain than did men—even though the two groups drank a comparable amount.

Alcohol works on some of the same biochemical pathways involved in the stress response. In particular, a hormone called ACTH is released during the stress response. Small amounts of alcohol also trigger the release of ACTH. Many scientists and drug companies have been trying to find compounds similar to ACTH that could be used to design new treatments.

Laboratory animals behave quite like humans when it comes to alcohol consumption and stress. If 20 male rats are put in cages with two drinking tubes, one with saccharin, the other with saccharin and 10% alcohol, 20% of the rats will never drink the alcohol; another 20% will drink significant amounts; and still another 20% will consume the equivalent of a social drinker. But if these same animals are exposed to random bouts of stress, after a week they will all drink more.

Federal researchers studying the effects of early maternal separation have shown that monkeys brought up away from their mothers had twice the level of stress hormones in their blood than monkeys that were not separated from their mothers. When these same animals grew up and were given free access to alcohol, the animals that were separated at birth consumed much more than their less stressed counterparts.

"Both drinking behavior and an individual's response to stress are determined by multiple genetic and environmental factors," Gordis said. "If borne out in humans, these findings elucidate the alcohol-stress relationship in two ways: They confirm that early life stress can influence later alcohol consumption, and they offer a promising biological marker of risk for excessive drinking."

Figuring out alcohol addiction seems an insurmountable task, as some studies are quick to show. In one recent experiment, genetically identical animals were distributed to labs in Albany, N.Y., Portland, Ore., and Edmonton, Canada, and those who handled the animals were trained to do so in a particular way. But it turned out that those who were fed alcohol behaved differently from those who were able to take it themselves. Different genes were turned on. Those fed alcohol drank more, at first. The animals given the choice—the freedom—to drink ended up drinking more.

"How the alcohol is administered has a profound effect on the results," Gordis said. "We have to pay attention to these issues."

Unfortunately, the complexities inherent in the disease process have made finding effective treatments difficult. The federal alcohol research institute has recently embarked on a study to test a combination of treatments for alcoholism. During the next two years, doctors at 11 treatment centers will enroll more than 1,300 people, who will receive one or both of two behavioral therapies and one or both of two medications (naltrexone or acamprosate) or a placebo. They will also have outpatient therapy sessions for four months and return for follow-up.

"As many as 50% of those who receive treatment for alcoholism relapse at least once, and only a fraction achieve long-term remission of the disease," said Dr. Roger Weiss, director of McLean Hospital's alcohol and drug treatment center in Massachusetts and one of the investigators in the federally sponsored trial. "The clinical trial may lead to better treatment."

Many doctors are dissatisfied with current treatments. Dr. Charles O'Brien, an expert on alcohol addiction at the University of Pennsylvania, has observed for 30 years how the treatment for addictions has changed, but remains unimpressed. He and other alcohol-abuse experts say that alcoholism is a chronic disease and that long-term treatments will be necessary to help people avoid drinking throughout their lives.

Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times

Jack Chick

Correspondents reply

Gee, now they are going to study what we have known for sometime. I'm going to interject some of what I got told (by Yale and Harvard researchers, our own folks, etc.) and have passed on to my kids—see if it fits with what you all have known, been told, read, learned???

And, my comments are OVER-simplified, short, for the sake of time (mine and yours) and space (ditto).

We didn't use alcohol in any form for 40 thousand years, consequently had no enzyme to break it down. Once in the mouth (for some, even on the skin—like in shaving smell goods?) it passes thru the soft tissue immediately, and, as it progresses thru the digestive tract/system, it passes, undiluted, into, thru every organ/part in the body.

If, in the crossing of the gene pool, racial crossover relationships, you don't GET that enzyme—then bingo—you are an alcoholic at conception—so all labels need to be read and heeded. So, yes, it's passed on—as is diabetes. You get a pancreas that can produce enough insulin, you don't get diabetes; you get an Indian system, diabetes looms on the horizon.

The red flush is well known in the native population. I can walk into any bar/restaurant late, and point with fair certainty to those who, when asked, you have Indian ancestors? ("Yes.") They are beet red, admit to feeling warm all over when they drink—like a hot flash. I was told, "Why do you think they called it 'fire water'?" Made sense to me.

Because with many of us this is an allergy, and we may not have the proper breakdown system, it's also why (I was told) Indians are often binge drinkers—none for a few weeks, months—then, one is too many, 300 is not enough. And often why 12-step programs, etc., don't work—there's nothing wrong with our morals, ethics, or backbones.

Considering how stressed our communities are, our families—and if this is true, that [alcohol] triggers a rise in the already faulty system we are born with—no wonder the alcoholism and suicide rate is so high. Anyway, too bad all these scientists just don't come around and chat with us, hear our stories—could get a lot of info for a McDonald's lunch, probably!! I'd talk their ears off for some substantial carry-out Chinese. ~{}:-)



Hi Rob,

Two things I wanted to bring up: One of the links in that article is about alcoholism among Natives. It brings up the claim among some scientists that we are alleged to be genetically predisposed to alcoholism.

I'm always pretty uncomfortable with these types of claims that biology=destiny. First of all, it's not true that we were never exposed to alcohol before Columbus. My own people, the Apache, have long brewed alcohol from corn. It's called tiswin. Not being able to brew it was one of the reasons Goyathlay (Geronimo) left confinement on the rez and went to war. Some still drink it today, and I've never heard of anyone abusing it.

The Aztecs and many other Indians in Mesoamerica also drank alcohol made from cactus called pulque. Not only that, drinking was done ritually in Nahua and other Mexican Indian villages, and still is to this day. A good source for reading about the change in drinking that Europeans brought in Wm Taylor's Drinking, Homicide and Rebellion in Colonial Mexico.

There's another book called Lies, Misconceptions, and Cherished Myths in American History that also talked about this subject for part of a chapter. The first Europeans to come here often wrote in their journals about how Natives drank in *moderation* while they (the Europeans) drank until they passed out.

So I don't think we can give much credence to these images of "give an Injun a bottle and he's helpless."

Plus some Native groups have long had used other mind altering substances like peyote, jimsonweed, and ayahuasca. There were and are strict standards for when and how they could be used, and they weren't for recrational use. They just stuck to using them in a ritual fashion though, or in certain proscribed social outlets, like the village wide drinking bouts allowed a few times a year in Mexican Indian villages.

I really think the difference in Native drinking habits from the general population is based on *how much we are allowed to make our own choices* in lifestyle, religion, and so on. So many times when I hear about how bad drinking is on a rez, it seems to me to be related to that. A friend of mine and colleague here at ASU, Patty Harms, grew up on a reserve in Manitoba. She tells me she never saw drinking there growing up. It was a fairly self sufficient community, still living mostly by hunting and harvesting wild rice. Now that commercial enterprises have made it impossible for that to continue, they have to live on government aid and have just an incredibly bad epidemic of alcoholism.

Put *any* people, Native, white, black, in that same situation and you'll have similar results, no matter what the geneticists uncover.

Just my thoughts, and hope you'll think about working this in somewhere on your site.

[Al Carroll]

What to do about Indian alcoholism

Alcoholism, the Reservation, and the Government

By James Falcon
August 15, 2005

In my eyes, alcoholism has a way of becoming an unwanted guest: it comes to stay with you and it never leaves. Along with living in teepees, frequenting casinos, and scalping (and I don't mean tickets to the Fighting Sioux games), alcoholism has also become one of the many stereotypes that are forever etched into the minds of many when they think about Native Americans.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the reasons why alcoholism is so prevalent in Indian Country, and how it can be stopped.

The reason why I believe that alcoholism is so often assimilated by the Native American community is because many see alcohol, as well as other drugs and their euphoric post-effects, as a way of escapism, to escape from the life they live. To many, alcohol is a way to hide from problems. Many will drink ‘until they go away'; but, they – the problems – do not go away that easily. Instead, they are masked by a stupor of alcoholic ‘blindness'.

In my lifetime, I have seen the lives of many people destroyed by alcohol addiction, both on an individual level basis and within a family. Alcoholism separates husbands from wives, parents from children, family members from other family members, and so forth. For a period of forty-some years, my paternal grandfather was a raging alcoholic, abandoning his family for stretches of time and devoting his paycheck to alcohol instead of his ten children. An aunt of mine has been a chronic alcoholic for twenty-three years and severed ties from many relations. An uncle's first marriage ended because of his drinking habits. The intervention of Social Services has taken children away from alcohol abusing parents. In short, alcoholism is like a mighty ocean that puts a wide and unfathomable gap between people.

"The devastating effects of alcoholism have found their mark on Indian Country's youth as well.", Mark Anthony Rolo, an enrolled member of the Bad River Ojibwa and a former Washington correspondent for Indian Country Today, wrote in 1999. "A Native teen's chance of dying from alcoholism is seventeen times higher than a teen from another race." Rolo also notes that along with diabetes, obesity, mental illnesses, and suicide, alcoholism is one of the major causes of death for Native peoples today.

Some may ask how alcoholism can thrive in such small rural communities such as a reservation town. Easy. Entrepreneurs, regardless of race, are smart enough to identify alcohol as the magic ingredient that numbs feelings, both good and bad. Then, they cash in on the situation, the popularity of the forty-ounce, the twenty-four pack, or the shot (after shot) of vodka.

The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska is a prime example of money over morals. The town, which is located close to the "dry" Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation, sells more than three million dollars in alcohol sales in a year. Many of those purchases were attributed to residents of Pine Ridge, who embarked on the journey across the South Dakota-Nebraska border to purchase liquor. In 2002, the state of Nebraska created a bill, LB 1036, which would prohibit the sale of alcohol within five miles of "Indian Country". Whiteclay falls under that jurisdiction.

Statistics and situations like these go to show that in a Native American community, bars flourish because the demand is satisfied to the extreme. Entrepreneurs are not stupid, especially when it comes to capitalizing on the almighty dollar, encouraging and exploiting a crippling disease and taking financial advantage of those that have been consumed by it.

The interjection of a government – be it county, tribal, state, etc. – is important in solving the growing problems of alcoholism on a reservation. Take the case of George Munoz, the former mayor of Gallup, New Mexico (once dubbed the "Drink Driving Capital"). Munoz was a politico who held the well-being, safety, and health of his constituents on a higher regard than that of the town's economy: an economy built up by the sale of alcoholic beverages. Through many campaigns and attempts, albeit some unsuccessful, Munoz finally hit pay dirt – the state government set aside monies to help fight alcohol-related deaths and alcoholism. In 1991, Congress appropriated $1.2 million for three specific projects in northwestern New Mexico. Of this, $900,000 was earmarked for startup operations at the Gallup Alcohol Crisis Center; $200,000 to finance a treatment program in Gallup at the Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital's Behavioral Health Services campus; and, $100,000 to renovate a Navajo Nation treatment center in the town of Crownpoint, which is a fifty-mile drive northeast of Gallup.

Taking under consideration the current situation of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in northern North Dakota, the North Dakota state government should take a page from that of Nebraska and New Mexico. First, banish alcoholic establishments in a five mile radius from Indian Country (which would mean that the Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock, Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake, and Fort Traversie reservations would become dry. Second, set aside monies and use them in a manner that would benefit alcoholics on a rehabilitation level. For some communities, an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is not enough. Indian Health Service (HIS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should take note: the creation of treatment centers in Belcourt, as well as throughout reservations across the country, would be pertinent to help combat any type of substance abuse.

"Hotzebue, one of the larger Native American communities in Alaska, outlawed the sale of alcohol recently and last year noted a forty percent decrease in assaults, sexual assaults, homicide, and suicide." writes Roger Clawson, a journalist for the Billings Gazette. This goes to show that should a government take the initiative to control the situation and instill types of censure on alcohol, the alcoholism statistics will surely numb.

I feel that through careful planning, strategizing, and consideration, governments of any kind, no matter how many in number, can work to help combat alcoholism in its purist form and nip it in the bud before it consumes an entire nation.

More on Indians and alcoholism
Nebraska's "dirty little secret"
Alcohol kills Indians
Good news about The Exiles?
The Battle for Whiteclay
How the West was wined
How Alaskan Natives get drunk
The Wellbriety Movement
Gary Farmer against drunk driving
Stereotypes cause mistrial
Native version of AA
Navajo kids develop anti-drinking slogans

Related links
Stereotype Hall of Shame
Good-for-nothing Indians

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