Native Americans and the Issue of 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 When the Europeans entered America they brought over beverages that superseded the alcohol percent of any drink produced by Indians.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.2).

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. 3). This...
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