It blows my mind that the alcoholism rate for adults in Pine Ridge is 80%. The US National alcoholism rate is only 15%. This is just one of the many statistics that highlight the stark differences between life off and on the Res.
While there are a number of complex factors that go into, cause and perpetuate this statistic, the main factor, the core problem that all other problems on the Res can be reduced to, is poverty. If poverty were reduced, alcoholism rates would decrease. Reducing poverty requires a lot: access to food, water, living space, health care, education, community, love, healing, support, jobs, motivation, leaders, role models, opportunity and hope, among others.
We often look to indigenous communities and assume that alcoholism is the bane of their existence, that unless they abandon their drinking addiction, it’s hopeless, and that it’s impossible to fix what’s already broken. This reinforces the idea that Aaron Huey, National Geographic photographer and indigenous community activist, put so well: that the last chapter to any successful genocide is when the oppressor can look at the oppressed and say, ‘what are you doing?’ ‘You’re killing yourselves, you’re killing each other.’ Americans blame alcoholism as the reason indigenous people have it so hard in the US. Well why are they alcoholics?
On top of blaming indigenous people for a problem that we created, we never apologized for stealing their lands, for murdering their husbands, for raping their wives, for all the evil we did. Instead we blame them. We say that it’s their fault and that they need to stop drinking.
My hope is that we, as a country, wake up, that we recognize our history and our shortcomings, and that we take action to rectify some of the damage we’ve done. While I don’t know what needs to happen, an apology needs to come first.