Native Americans and Alcohol Use

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The Native American population has been seen as a minority ever since the first white settlers arrived to America in 1492. With over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, it is unfair to group their traditions and culture as one. In Montana, there are seven federally recognized reservations today, which include the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Blackfeet, and Flathead (Reservations). In this paper, I am focusing on statistics and data gathered from all Montana reservations but, more importantly, the image others created for these reservations and Native Americans. During the past century, there have been multiple books and films written about Native Americans that helped other ethnicities get an idea of life on Native American reservations. I had the chance to read and watch some of these literature pieces my senior year of high school when I took Mrs. Wood’s Native American English class. Over the years, the typical Native American image began to transform from proud people with many traditions and beliefs into a stereotype that not all Native Americans are proud of. In today’s society, Native American’s are seen as alcoholics. Why are they seen as drunks one may ask? Is it an accurate representation of their lifestyle? Are suicides rates higher on the reservations than the rest of Montana? During my English class last year, we read Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” In this book, Arnold Spirit Jr., who is a high school Native American, deals with many obstacles in his life and loses many close family members and friends due to alcohol related incidents. I first began seeing the trend of alcoholism within the reservations when I read this novel. It is also when I began wanting to know more about the typical Native American stereotype the media shows. In this class, we also read “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” again written by Sherman Alexie. This book strings together short stories of Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and their experiences in the twentieth century. He describes the discrimination they face and how they deal with it- by resorting to drinking. I believe Alexie portrays the personal feelings of these fictional characters accurately and incorporates real life encounters he has had. This shows how life on the reservation differs from life in the cities, and I learned that drinking was just a way of life to Native Americans if something is going wrong in their lives. Among Native American men, 26.5% of all deaths were alcohol-related, while, among women, 13.2% of all deaths were alcohol-related. Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the overall U.S. population, with 3.5% of all deaths in the U.S. considered alcohol-related (Mokdad, Marks, Stroup, & Gerberding). Data about adult alcohol use is very limited, but much is written and studied about Native American alcohol use by adolescents. One of the largest ongoing studies of alcohol use among Native American adolescents has involved annual school-based surveys carried out since 1975 (Beauvais). Data from this research has consistently shown that Native American adolescents have a higher lifetime rate of alcohol use than non-Native adolescents do. In 1993, 71% of Native American adolescents in grades 7–12 reported trying alcohol. In the same study, “55% of Native American adolescents reportedly had been drunk and about 34% reported having been drunk in the month prior to the study” (Beauvais). In comparison, Johnston, O’Malley, and Bachman reported that about 21% of adolescents in a national sample had been drunk within the past month, a largely lower percentage than among Native American adolescents. Studies showed that lifetime occurrence rates for alcohol use over a 15-year period among Native Americans were consistently 5% to 15% higher than for non-Native Americans. This isn’t the only case where these results were...