Native American Studies students speak out

Sue Wilson

I am taking the Native American Experience class at Northern, and most people in the class are shocked by what we are
learning.

We thought during Native American Heritage Month, our class would try to teach the general NMU population about some of the stereotypes, and actual facts, that are most upsetting to us.

My topic is the “drunken Indian” stereotype, which is usually accepted as fact and rarely questioned. It is important to distinguish alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Binge drinking and recreational drinking in any ethnic group is predominantly young males ages 15 to 35, and can be associated with college fraternity drinkers. This style emphaizes high blood alcohol levels, resulting in very high risk of injury, arrest and death.

Alcohol dependence, or chronic drinking, results in a “revolving door” of arrests, hospitalizations and behavior problems.

It is important to note that in any ethnic group, 10 percent of the population does 90 percent of the drinking.

Drinking behaviors vary among tribes and peer groups, and many Native Americans, especially females, abstain from any use of alcohol. Inaccurate research frequently takes each incident of the 10 percent revolving door population to create high numbers in a misleading use of
statistics.

This measuring can stigmatize a whole tribe. Also, contrary to popular belief, the myth of Native Americans metabolizing alcohol slower than other cultures has no research basis in fact.

Unfortunatly, when asked, many Native Americans will self-identify a high percentage of drinkers among their population. This is contrary to the evidence, which proves lower in some tribes than the general U.S. average. Also, drinking habits change over time in many tribal communities.

It will be important for the Native American population to defend the Native American males who have completely quit drinking and the lower proportion of women who drink.

It is important for everyone to not perpetuate the drunken “Indian stereotype.”

This information was taken from the article, The Epidemiology of Alcohol Abuse Among American Indians by Philip A. May, in the text book Native American Voices, Prentice Hall Third Edition 2010, by Lobo, Talbot and Morris.