Native Americans and Alcohol
Alcohol abuse among Native Americans in the U.S has been a problem for a long time. Michael Dorris, author of The Broken Cord, which detailed his adopted Native American son’s fetal alcohol syndrome, called attention to it when his book was published in 1989.
If you don’t live near an area with a high Native American population, you may tend to think of this group’s alcohol problems only when you hear or read about this tragedy. A recent article reminds us that the problem is not going away.
Alcohol has been banned on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota since 1970. I presume that was the result of an Oglala tribal decree, since “fetal alcohol syndrome, fatal drunken driving accidents, and beer-fueled murders have cast a pall over Pine Ridge for decades,” according to the writer. So some Pine Ridgers go to Whiteclay, a nearby town, for their poison, and as a result, the tribe has filed a lawsuit against brewers and the stores selling liquor just yards from the reservation, in Nebraska. Whiteclay residents have several responses to this finger-pointing, including the thought that the problem will just move and at least it’s contained in one area now.
The Oglala reservation’s tribal head said the majority of criminal court cases and illnesses on the reservation were the result of alcohol bought across the state line (in other words, in Whiteclay). There were 20,000 alcohol-related arrests in 2011 alone on the reservation. Four of five families have a member with a drinking problem, and there are high rates of teen suicide.
Pine Ridge is the only dry reservation left in SD, but about 1/3 of the other 310 reservations already ban alcohol. People who want to legalize alcohol on all reservations say that doing so would allow tribes to control it better and have a revenue source for providing treatment programs. The CDC, for its part, says “Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable death among American Indians, and they are affected at about twice the rate of the national average.”
Here’s a link to a Sioux City Journal article about the controversy. Also, an issue of Alcohol Health and Research World on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism site contains an interesting article on American Indians and Alcohol.