|The following is the opinion of Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.
Ivan F. Star Comes
Ignoring alcoholism will lead to the
destruction of the Lakota
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out
One of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 quotes seems to describe a situation here on the Pine Ridge Reservation: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
My contention is that the majority of adults here have closed their eyes to one of the “things that matter” in our lives. Nearly every household is seriously affected by the devastating results of alcoholism.
Our government has prioritized many vital public issues like education, housing, and poverty and I agree with all of that. However, I believe we have failed to deal effectively with alcoholism which is a serious social problem greater than the other problems listed here. We must realize the fact that we contribute to our own demise by looking away from this somber situation.
Tribal members Mel Lone Hill and Will Peters recently expressed their concern about the disorder and chaos alcoholism causes to life on the home land. I am in agreement. We have many elders who said the very same thing before they left us. Alcoholism creates not only appalling situations and problems but they weaken our future as a culturally distinct group of people and diminish the concept of nationhood.
Let’s include illegal drugs in this too. A majority of the destructive effects of alcohol and drug abuse can be found in our police reports like domestic violence, automobile accidents resulting in premature deaths, including suicide, gang violence, rape, incest, and single-parenthood. These stats are persistent among the adults here on the home land but they also occur among our large youth populace.
Within a period of eight years I lost close family members, about one every eight months, to alcoholism. Alcoholism took my mother as she froze to death during a weekend alcohol outing. My only half-sister died in a burning vehicle she was passed out in and one of my nieces was stabbed at a “party” and left outside where she bled to death. Such incidents are still happening.
Alcoholics openly occupy the streets of White Clay. I recall when one of these “occupants” gave birth many years ago under shocking conditions. I don’t know what happened to the infant but that incident shouldn’t have occurred. Personally, with my understanding of alcoholism, these people need to be locked up to stop the consumption and every effort made to help them recover.
Many “normal” people drink alcohol regularly in the overcrowded public housing sites across the reservation where children and infants are present. The worst kinds of drunks are those who try vainly to hide their excessive drinking. Many more do it while on the public roads as evidenced by the many discarded alcohol drink containers in the ditches of our major roadways.
After all, when one breaks the law, one usually pays the consequences, unless cronyism and nepotism is present. At any rate, alcoholics should not be exempt from breaking the law and the consequences of drinking must be treated. They must be made to realize that they cannot drink like they do. Then they must be assisted as forcibly as possible to look into their problem.
Some say alcoholism is a disease and I agree. I know we have tribal programs that have been dealing with the problem. However, this is not sufficient. Employees are seemingly preoccupied with paper work to satisfy funding requirements. These programs are more hindered than they are effective. Perhaps the community members and tribal government can give these programs more support.
Mr. Lone Hill suggested the idea that tribal government could develop an ordinance to isolate, arrest, and treat the excessive and deadly consumption of alcohol. Perhaps our leaders do not understand how alcoholism works. Perhaps this is their reasoning for not prioritizing it. Whatever the reason be, ignoring it is not a solution nor is it acceptable.
A very serious situation in relation to alcoholism is that our youth tend to follow in the footsteps of not only their peers but they see and eventually do as their parents and grandparents did. This situation is not completely widespread, there are a few families who managed to maintain sobriety for most of the lives. The rest entertain an air of indifference toward the adverse effects of alcoholism.
Mr. Lone Hill expressed his displeasure regarding intoxicated people attending wakes and funerals of relatives. He said this is a great dishonor to the family. Also, I have witnessed drunks handling veteran flags at powwows. Their only goal is that money gift with which to buy more alcohol. This act is disgraceful and a total insult to the family.
Can these and other similar situations be prevented? I think our tribal government can outlaw such activity if they put their minds to it. Nepotism and cronyism usually overpower tribal ordinances and resolutions. The enforcement of tribal laws is heavily dependent on its public awareness. Simply said if people are not aware of a resolution or law, it is usually ignored and is rendered useless.
Alcoholism is difficult to cope with because only the individual can decide to sober up or not. As concerned people though, we can help our people by making drinking uncomfortable and undesirable. Let’s get away from our debilitating dependency and seek out alternative methods and develop them to enable our members to achieve and maintain sobriety. Something has to happen.
Mr. Peters suggested a “sobriety movement.” People do need alternatives to their relentless drinking and drugging. I was part of such a movement back in the late 1970s. There are a few from my home district who have since managed to abstain from alcohol. Sadly, many others could not maintain sobriety and ultimately drank themselves to death.
Personally, I view alcoholism as an irrational and slow form of suicide. We tend to view suicide through stereotypical lens, and as a result we continue to look the other way. “Leave it to the professionals” is a lame but common excuse. As community and elected leaders, we need to face the facts. If we are to combat alcoholism, we must absolutely understand how this illness works.
My suggestion to Mel and Will and to others with similar concerns and interests is to start with small planning sessions. Group discussions can eventually develop into broader activities. Trained professionals are great but recovering alcoholics can be an asset too. Perhaps the police reports can be used to measure progress and/or success.
Anyway, people who drink must realize that they cannot do what they do in public. Alcohol is illegal here anyway. They must realize that they will go to jail if they consume alcohol, pay stiff fines and costs and undergo treatment and aftercare all under court compliance. Our home land is not a “skid row” and it is not occupied primarily by derelicts and vagrants.
(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; firstname.lastname@example.org)
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