Native Americans and the Issue of Alcoholism

Published: 2021-09-11 20:10:08
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Category: Alcoholism

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Following the European invasion in America, Native Americans came to endure many problems. While some have faded, others still linger on in their lives. The issue of alcohol and alcoholism is one of them. From settlers using it to deceive, to today’s issues on the reservation, alcohol has played a devastating role in the lives of Native Americans. Knowing how the issue of alcohol became such a predominate part of Native Americans lives will allow us to spawn ideas on how to end the problem. Before the colonists arrived in America, Native Americans had little to no knowledge of alcoholic beverages. “Stereotypes of Native Americans” par. 1 ). Low alcohol beverages were produced by some tribes but this was only used for ceremonial practices (“History of Alcohol Among Native Americans” par 2). When the Europeans entered America they brought over beverages that superseded the alcohol percent of any drink produced by Indians. European colonization is what introduced alcohol to the Native Americans, but mass consumption did not occur until the seventeenth century (“Stereotypes of Native Americans” par. 2). As the fur trade began gaining momentum in the seventeenth century, so did the alcohol trade.
Some European traders offered alcohol during the trading process to manipulate the Native Americans (Eshkibok par. 7). Also, skins and furs where being traded for alcohol instead of necessities the Indian people needed. This occurred because the younger Native American men, who became addicted to alcohol, had control over the trade and chose the alcohol over other items. These decisions left Indian nations in states of poverty and left them in difficulty dealing with the invading Europeans (“Stereotypes of Native Americans” par. ). As more Europeans entered American, more and more Native Americans were forced into reservations. These reservations left Indians in mass poverty, cultural shock and with no hunting grounds. Reservations with these issues are breeding grounds for social problems, including alcoholism. Many assumptions have been made as to why the Indians became so addicted to alcohol. The biggest factor that causes the alcoholism is how life on the reservations is for Native Americans.
As said before, poverty and cultural shock causes depression among the population of the reservation, which leads to substance abuse to cure these feelings. There are a few statistics one must consider, presented in an article by Peter Katel. In reservations nationwide, forty nine percent of the population is unemployed; that is 10 times the national average. Also, deaths from alcoholism are at least six hundred and fifty times higher than the national average. These statistics show how life on the reservation is vastly different.
With such a sense of despair in the reservations, it is understandable why people turn to substances for an outlet. While most blame it on the conditions of the reservations, some blame can be put on the chemical make-up and genetics of the Native Americans themselves. Depending on race, the time it takes to metabolize alcohol differs. In the case of Native Americans, the time it takes to metabolize alcohol is lower (Ringwalt par. 3). This difference in metabolizing rates could explain why the Indians developed a habit to alcohol very quickly when first introduced to it when the colonist arrived.
Many misconceptions have arrived with the issues of alcoholism in Native Americans though. Due to some reservations having high populations of alcoholics, stereotypes have evolved. Bars began displaying signs forbidding them to drink (“Stereotypes of Native Americans” par. 5). According to an article written by grad student Mike Eshkibok, the stereotype has even made its way to the big screen in movies like 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” (par. ).
This stereotype has gone as far as to have people believe that Indians are either wise old men, or drunks (Nerburn pg. 185). Scientific study also is affected by these stereotype and leads to biased results. Recent studies were found to have false results about the percentage of Native American alcoholics from two reservations. Even though the results of the new study found that the amount of alcoholics on the reservation were fifty percent higher than national averages, it was still considerably lower than the previous study which found up to eighty percent f the men on the reservations were alcoholics (Ham par. 2). With stereotypes becoming so inflated that it affects scientific studies, a higher concern of solving this problem must begin. Native Americans have dealt with many problems after European colonization, and one of the prevalent issues is alcoholism. With the history of alcohol being an invasive and with modern times leading to more cases of alcoholism, it is hard to say when the Native Americans will see the day when their communities are free of this trouble. Section 2: Alcoholism is an issue in many peoples lives.
But for Native Americans it has become a very common issues effecting many people. Native Americans also affect more than health, issues like stereotyping and control come into play. Two authors decided to include the effects of alcohol in their works. By showing the affects of alcohol in Native Americans, people will be able to see the difficulties of the disease and try to overcome some of the problems. In the play “Ghost Dance” by Annette Arkeketa, a women named Hokti is dealing with her issues of alcoholism while she lays in a coma.
You see the thoughts of both Hokti and her family sitting by her side. This issues that are brought up show how each side is affected by the disease. Hokti herself is affected by the “Alcohol Spirit” who deems her unable to live life with out alcohol, while her family is listening to her younger sister Lori state how she has changed and how dying would be best for her. The problems that are brought up show how the family is affected by the alcoholic daughter and proves that even if they are Native American, they are dealing with a huge problem.
Arkeketa play is told by a man telling a story to two children. He is trying to explain why there are no more Native Americans. Alcoholism is tearing up the Native American culture and with out the strength of the Indians and the help from the out side world the Native Americans may never overcome the grasp of alcoholism. Arkeketa may be trying to create this concept in her play. Hokti is hearing the words of her sister, the out side world, and is becoming informed on how she is acting, while hearing this she is battling, and ultimate helping herself conquer alcohol.
Alcohol has also affected the reputations of all Indians, not just the ones who are alcoholics. In Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn, the issue of stereotyping Indians is brought up. Nerburn travels around with an Indian elder named Dan and hears his take on problems facing the Indian people. While at a bar in a local town, two drunk Native Americans walk in and make a scene. This sets Dan off on a story about how people only see Native Americans as either the wise elders or drunk slobs. Dan states “¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬For white people they only see two types of Indians. Drunken bums and Noble Indians….
When they meet one of us who‘s not drunk they have to deal with us”(185). This stereotype is very true, and has been around for a long time. Signs in bars stating “We don’t sell to Indians”, and laws being passed to make selling alcohol on reservations illegal (“Stereotypes of Native Americans” par. 7). Stereotyping begins many doubts about the Indian people, even if some chose not to drink or can tolerate themselves. Nerburn was asked by Dan to write this book in hopes of dispelling the common misconceptions about Indians and to show how exactly they have been living.
Throughout the story Nerburn has had trouble figuring out how to write the story. He is told that he must not make it white or the message will not get across. Nerburn then decided to write the story as is occurs, in first person. This makes the reader as if themselves are Nerburn going through this journey. So when readers are experiencing this journey they really come to realize how the Native Americans are feeling and get a new perspective. This way of writing will help the readers dispel the stereotypes they may have had, especially on alcoholism.
Seeing an Native Americans point of view on issues like this really gives the public a full view of issues like alcoholism in Native American lives. With authors like Nerburn and Arkeketa writing about the difficulties of alcoholism in Native Americans lives, people will begin to see how the Native Americans are dealing with the issue and how some are connected even though they don’t suffer from the diseases at all. When people begin to understand the problems, more effort to fix it will come up.

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