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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Study Finds 12 Percent of Native America Deaths Alcohol Related

Last year, the question was examined whether to open up the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to alcohol sales on the reservation.

The logic was that the border towns like Whiteclay, Nebraska are "getting rich" off Pine Ridge dollars--dollars which could fill Pine Ridge public coffers. Also, since so many people on the reservation travel to towns like Whiteclay for alcohol, at least people wouldn't have to travel as far for it...and with the distance, increase the risk of an alcohol-related accident.

I argued at the time that selling alcohol on the reservation, and thus making it more accessible, would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. The reservation is already crippled with alcohol-related issues; why in the world would you want to add to that by making the source more accessible?

Today, the Rapid City Journal reports that the alcohol-related death rate is 12% for Native Americans, or more than three times the rate for the general population.

Dwayne Jarman, a CDC epidemiologist who works for the Indian Health Service and is one of the study's authors, said it is the first national survey that measures Native American deaths due to alcohol. It should be a "call to action" for federal, state, local and tribal governments, he said.

The researchers obtained their statistics by analyzing death certificates over the four-year period.

Traffic accidents and liver disease made up more than 25% of the deaths. Alcohol-related homicides and suicides made up 6.6% and 2.2% of the deaths, respectively.

That should quash any reasonable discussion of selling alcohol on the reservation.

Also, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome plagues the Native American community. When pregnant women consume significant amounts of alcohol, FAS can result. Symptoms of FAS include low birth weight, developmental delay, physical coordination problems, physical deformity, poor memory, and behavior problems.

According to a 1989 New York Times article, studies have found between 5 and 25% of children affected. Jeaneen Grey Eagle, who ran the alcohol recovery program Project Recovery at that time, estimated 25% of the children on Pine Ridge were affected, and said the rate was growing.

My church has done several outreach programs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in recent years, and I've been involved in some of those.

The level of suffering which is occurring right here in the United States--right here in South Dakota--is staggering. And a great deal of it is due to alcohol abuse; some estimates of the rate of alcoholism go as high as 80%.

Pine Ridge suffers from a very high unemployment rate, high crime rates, and high spouse and child abuse.

Jarman is absolutely right. This report should serve as a call to action. How can we stand by while so many of our neighbors are suffering so?

The starting point must be the embrace of personal responsibility and objective moral values. Only by recognizing that each of us must take responsibility for doing the right thing, and that we are accountable to do the right thing, can the tide begin to turn on the suffering and despair going on in the Native American community.


Anonymous said...

Besides alcohol-related deaths, "Pine Ridge suffers from a very high unemployment rate, high crime rates, and high spouse and child abuse."

I admit my ignorance about the workings of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the social welfare system on reservations, but I suspect that the problems mentioned in this piece are not because of some intrinsic deficiency in the American Indian population, but due to some extrinsically imposed factors. We have seen what government interference and welfare have done to other groups of people, like urban blacks, so it is not a stretch to assume the same about indigenous Americans. If so, the solution to these problems will only come from massive reforms of a system that may have originated with good intentions, but has grown into a cold-hearted, family-destroying beast that is maintained by self-serving bureauocrats and liberal politicians. Where is their compassion?

Bob Ellis said...

You're absolutely right, Dr. Theo. I have a number of Native American friends, and some years ago was responsible for departmental hiring at a major corporation, and found many of the Native American candidates went on to be outstanding assets to the company. So it isn't, as you said, some intrinsic deficiency in the American Indian population.

The conflicts between whites and Native Americans in the late 1800s and in the 1900s undoubtedly play a role (we gave Native Americans a raw deal in many cases).

Nevertheless, human beings remain responsible for how they react to mistreatment; we can either allow it to strengthen our own character and resolve...or allow it to push us to despondence and bitterness.

That is unfortunately the case for many, and as a former drunk, I know that drinking goes hand-in-hand with bitterness and despondence.

I've seen some pretty extreme poverty in other countries (not the worst that's out there, but still pretty bad), and most of it has nothing on the poverty and decay at Pine Ridge. There are some very good people there who are working hard to help, but it runs deep and wide.

Getting rid of the alcohol problem there wouldn't solve everything...but it would be a HUGE step in the right direction.

Pine Ridge runs like a socialist enclave; Republican Native American U.S. House candidate Bruce Whalen said so a couple of years ago during his campaign.

Eradicating the alcoholism and socialism (along with it's inherent corruption) at Pine Ridge would bring the suffering people there out of the darkness and into the light.

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