April 04, 2008

How Alaskan Natives get drunk

Nome--the water-hole of EskimosNome, population 4,000, is best known as the finish line of the 1,100-mile Iditarod sled dog race and is situated in a region the size of Louisiana, with 15 mostly dry Inupiat and Yupik villages, some as much as 200 miles away.

It has six bars, four liquor stores and two private clubs that sell booze, and annual alcohol sales total $5.5 million, which is equal to more than half of the city's annual budget.

The drinking crowd swells dramatically during the Iditarod and when Alaska's oil-royalty checks--last year's windfall was about $1,100--are distributed to nearly every man, woman and child in the state each fall. But even on the slowest nights, it's not unusual to encounter someone who has passed out.
Turning Off the Tap

Alcohol has long plagued the Bush, but stopping the flow is a tall order for small villages with limited help from law enforcementThe traditional Inupiat subsistence community of 630, nestled on a channel of the Kobuk River 45 miles east of Kotzebue, voted in 1987 to ban possession and importation of alcohol. The village is legally “dry”—one of many Alaska communities prohibiting all alcohol all the time. Yet the incentive to break the law is strong. A bottle of whiskey that sells for $10 in Anchorage might fetch $150 in an isolated community like Noorvik—30 times the typical rate of return in Alaska on cocaine and nearly four times the return on marijuana.

It’s a problem plaguing Alaska villages that have taken a stand against alcohol abuse. To interrupt a cycle of accidents, assaults, heartbreak and death, more than 100 communities have voted to ban the sale, possession or importation of alcohol under Alaska’s local option statutes. But the lure of such staggering profits, and the self-destructive urge among a few people to drink abusively, can undercut a village’s resolve one bottle at a time.

After a liquor purchase consumes a family’s monthly fuel subsidy or a big proportion of its food budget, a bottle might be consumed by two or three people. And then the trouble starts.

“They’ll be intoxicated enough to where they’re willing to do anything to find more alcohol,” Leath said. “They’ll start beating people up. They’ll start breaking into homes. They’ll steal snowmachines—and they will be DUI. They will start assaulting each other for that last drink.”
The historical background:The effect of alcohol on Alaska’s people, regardless of ethnic background or residence, drives some of the nation’s highest rates of domestic violence, accidents and death. Drinking is behind most of the state’s crimes and assaults. It’s the small, tight-knit Native communities that have always borne the brunt, including villages that have voted to stay dry.

Western culture has known alcohol for 5,000 years, “and we’re not doing a very good job of handling it,” said Darryl Wood, an associate professor with the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage who is now studying the effectiveness of recent anti-bootlegging enforcement on community safety.

“Alaska Natives have had it for 200 years,” he added. “I think if you took a population of Caucasians and put them in small, isolated communities with no jobs, very little hope for the future, the decline of subsistence and no history of dealing with alcohol, I think you’d see some very similar behavior.”

The damage caused to Alaska’s Native people by alcohol is well documented. Native leaders and social scientists have linked it to the disruption of traditional tribal culture that began with the first Russian fur traders and continues today with the erosion of the subsistence lifestyle.
Comment:  Has prohibition ever worked as a solution to substance abuse? I doubt it.

More likely, the answer is the usual suspects: jobs, education, services, culture. In other words, all that boring stuff that takes time and costs money.

For more on the subject, see Drunken Indians.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Prohibition NEVER worked anywhere it ever was tried. Period. The people ALWAYS found the sources for their vices despite whatever the laws may have stated otherwise. Consequently, prohibition laws lasted briefly if at best. No one can legislate morality, ipso facto. Examine anywhere on earth that defeated people reside. Alcohol and/or drug abuse ordinarily is rampant. Quite simply put, the people that EuroMan did not shoot and kill, will kill themselves. Genocide by proxy becomes the plague of survivors. It is not logical, but it is often true...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

"Alcohol has long plagued the Bush"

I'm not sure if he has touched a drop during his Presidency, however. But perhaps.

writerfella said...

Writerfela here --
Oh, nonsense. See how many times Bush misstated or acted unsober. In eight years, we've seen it all. Bush was drunk more times than his administration ever would admit. Why else would he direct the armed forces of the USA to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11? We are in that war out of drunken excess rather than a genuine assault. writerfella predicts that, once George Bush 2 leaves office, Bush will drink himself to death within five years. Watch and see...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

If stereotypes of drunkenness must land somewhere, why not on Bush?

Rob said...

Bush may be drunk with power, but there's no evidence whatsoever of his drinking in office. Invading Iraq demonstrates his reckless disregard of the facts, not his drunkenness. Plenty of sober but stupid Americans agreed that attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 was a smart idea.

I counterpredict that Bush will live to a ripe old age just like his father and mother. He'll reach 70 at least and probably 80.

harison said...

sounds good but their destiny remains in that they are not forced to do that they have been engaged to do that
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