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Expansion and alcoholism: Their effects on tribes

Shelby Hagerdon, Guest Columnist

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*This is a special series written by various Neihardt Scholars over the next few weeks.

Humans are naturally curious creatures, feeling the need to explore and expand their territory. But, rarely is any thought given as to how expansion will impact humanity and the world. Empires rise and fall and great civilizations can be destroyed. Without an understanding of how nations, states and governments evolved, the people within can become misjudged—as people also develop along with their leadership.

When Europeans arrived in America, not only did they bring small pox and other detrimental diseases to the native population, they also brought alcohol. Previously, Native Americans had not been exposed to liquor or its effects.

This early use of the drug was strongly encouraged and there was little regulation, unlike today. So, drinking became a custom, passed from generation to generation—leading to the problem of alcoholism among tribes.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 10 percent of non-Hispanic whites in 2014 were living below the poverty level. Between Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, this number was 23 percent. During the years 2011-2013, the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department also reported 12 percent of whites stated they suffered from fair or poor health, while nearly 28 percent of American Indians reported the same.

Additionally, 26.9 percent of American Indians have been told they have diabetes, for the white population, only 8.5 percent. Judging by those statistics, Native Americans clearly have lower standards of health than people of European descent, or, more specifically, people descending from a population exposed to the effects of alcohol.

Businesses saw an opportunity. The sale of alcohol on reservations is prohibited by federal law, unless the tribal council allows it. However, it is not banned to sell just outside reservations. Liquor stores constantly pop up around tribal areas.

The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has felt some of the worst effects of alcohol on American Indians with high rates of unemployment, abuse and suicide. On Pine Ridge, eight out of 10 families are affected by alcoholism and it is estimated that unemployment is over 80 percent.

Pine Ridge is only 350 miles away from Wayne, yet there are many people who haven’t heard of the troubles inflicting the reservation. While it’s difficult to be as involved as we may like, we can still raise awareness of the problem and promote dry reservations and the ethical selling of alcohol.

Even if we don’t have all the resources to directly solve a problem, we do have a voice. . . perhaps the most powerful resource of all.

Professor’s Note: This column has current relevance, as the State Liquor Control Commission revoked licenses for all Whiteclay distributors last fall.

Monday the Nebraska State Senate debated LB 1120 which would remove authority of the commission to revoke liquor licenses.

Yesterday’s Omaha World Herald reported on the status of the bill: State Sen. Larson chided for rare move of not testifying for his own liquor bill, which includes Whiteclay provision .

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Expansion and alcoholism: Their effects on tribes