INTRODUCTION It has been determined that the association between poverty and alcoholism within the Native American environment is more than merely a coincidence. Indeed, the inherent connection between the two aspects speaks to issues of pride, failure and a sense of betrayal. It can be argued that the Native American population, a high percentage of who live in constant poverty, sees no other way to deal with the nagging issues that accompany indigence other than resorting to alcohol as a means by which to ease the emotional and spiritual pain.
“For 500 years, the white western culture has tried to extinguish Native Americans as a group. We have been given malnutrition, poverty, alcoholism, disease, and now a nuclear waste dump. We’re still fighting genocide” (Morrison, 1996, p. 24).II. REVIEW OF LITERATUREProviding results from a study it conducted, the Institute for Health Policy at Brandeis University reported that drug and alcohol abuse was the “number one health problem in the country” (Anonymous, 1998, p. backgrnd.htm), which translated into a substantial increase in deaths, disabilities and illnesses over “any other preventable health condition” (p.
backgrnd.htm). To be sure, the Native American population has significantly contributed to these statistical findings, inasmuch as this particular society represents as many as five times more alcoholics than compared with the population in general (Britt, 1997). Wing (1996) notes that research findings have indicated the fact that within the Native American culture, the reality of alcoholism reflected a sense of abandonment of social and personal responsibility; in other words, a person who drank was exempt from having to deal with the ills that society has perpetrated upon him.
“Hence, the disease concept of alcoholism provided a culturally acceptable account” (Wing, 1996, p. 54). Whether or not poverty is the singular motivating factor behind Native American alcoholism, it stands to represent one of the most critical of all potential reasons, affording the continuance of the stereotypical Native American drunk.
Feeling cheated by the very social system that promises to care for each and every individual who inhabits its soil, Native Americans have long perceived the white man’s society as having cheated them out of what was rightly theirs, spanning from the first European settlers to the legal system of today. “…It is difficult to ignore the fact that too many Navajos live in poverty — stereotype though this may be…The problem of alcoholism is simply ignored; the problem of poverty is generally sidestepped” (Barclay, 1996, p. 559). The legal system is an entity comprised of individual human beings who attest to provide protection for the masses. This may be true in theory but the truth of the matter is that the courts have gained far too much influence over people’s lives in their ongoing quest for civil harmony.In fact, it has come to the point where the law has turned into more of an enemy than a savior; this fact is easily proven with any number of cases that favor the perpetrator.
“A culture whose highest priorities include self-aggrandizement, not to mention entertainment, bears marked resemblances to, shall we say, less successful cultures. Like that of the late Roman Empire” (Murchison, 1998, p. 25A). Yet, in spite of the fact that the legal system has lost its focus, it continues to represent the country’s constitutional interests. This point, in and of itself, is particularly frightening in light of the system’s cockeyed loyalty.
To be sure, the Constitution’s founders would role over in their graves if they were privy to the contortions their original legal system has been forced make. The law is not only a busy-body, but it is also no longer the safety net society can rely upon to save it from itself. It can be argued that in the eyes of the Native Americans, humanity has turned into a selfish, egotistical and myopic entity.
No longer are people more concerned with others than they are with themselves. This move away from benevolence has caused considerable harm to the Native American population, with poverty running rampant and even the most simplistic of resources kept from attainment. This gross lack of social responsibility has caused a world of hurt for those who were first to embrace this land as their own, only to be thrust off in a fury of greed and inhumanity. Indeed, the issue of poverty and the manner in which it is closely associated with alcoholism has its very roots within the fundamental fracture that was established when the white man assumed the position of superiority.”Alcohol abuse among American Indians and Alaska Natives has produced alcohol related mortality rates far exceeding that of the U.S. general population (10.S times as great for ages 25-34 and 6.
5 times as great for ages 35-44) (Indian Health Service 1995). This behavior is part of a pattern of self-destructive actions (violence, accidents) whose source is low self-esteem, a sense of hopelessness/helplessness, and post traumatic stress syndrome occurring as a result of the 500 years of interaction between Anglos and Native Americans” (Hassin, 1996, p. 12).And herein lies the bone of contention: Does the law exist to encourage man’s independence or is it merely there to thwart it? There is no doubt in the minds of Native Americans that social responsibility has escaped the original intent of the legal system, leaving them to flounder in an unbearable existence of poverty and alcoholism. Once upon a time, the law served the very people it so defiantly protected; today, it has become so distorted that it now defends the guilty and forces the victim to prove his innocence.
Indeed, corrupt and biased legal infiltration has resulted in placing the Native American populace in grave danger from its own protective system, resulting in the extension of poverty due to ineffective legal support.In a society where financial considerations determine who lives and who dies within the legal system, it can be said that money has proven to be the root of all evil and the very entity that eludes a great number of Native Americans. “In an era when money counts and very little else does” (Murchison 25A), humanity has become transfixed with gaining exorbitant financial success, often at the cost of other’s existence. The legal system is no different in this ultimate pursuit, although officials would like everyone to believe they are above reproach. In all actuality, the legal system is just an extension of the government, which is an agency everyone knows lacks a considerable amount of social responsibility. “There is a movement toward economic development on the Navajo reservation, however much work will need to be done. The reservation is the largest in the US, but more than half of the residents live below the poverty level, there is a 35% unemployment rate, and alcoholism and suicide are ongoing problems” (Anonymous, 1996, p. 33).
III. THESIS PARAGRAPH Characteristic of the overwhelming feelings of self-worthlessness and significant inadequacy, it is no wonder that alcoholism has become a major stumbling block in the progress of Native American peoples. It has been estimated that the number of Native Americans in the United States has reached no less than two million, with statistics indicating that thirty-eight percent of Indian children live below the poverty level at “more than twice the number of the average U.S. citizen” (Anonymous, no date, p.
survive.htm). Contingent to these numbers is the relationship between poverty and alcoholism, a disease that has taken a firm hold of Native Americans of all ages as a means by which to cope with their destitute situation. The following report will serve to outline the issues that surround these circumstances, as well as illustrate findings through experimental procedures.IV. METHODSThis research will attempt to uncover the reasons why poverty among Native American populations results in large numbers of alcoholism. A study of this type is so imperative to Native American social well-being, inasmuch as not only will the results seek to demonstrate how poverty cripples their ability to establish concrete and reality-based solutions, but they will also recognize and define any alarming trends that are concurrent with poverty and alcoholism.
This survey, by asking such pertinent questions as a means by which to draw out accurate and insightful responses, will provide a deeper look into the minds of those Native Americans whose lives have been upturned through poverty and subsequent alcoholism. The true/false, yes/no and fill-in questions will be a significant indicators of the social climate residing within each individual. Respondents who answer the questions as truthfully as possible will better equip researchers with the ability to gather enough empirical data to understand the far-reaching implications of poverty and alcoholism.
Integral to the study would be assessing the various levels of depression and issues of self-worth the respondents experience in association with the intrinsic hopelessness that accompanies poverty. Also hopeful in the findings will be insights to the periods of time when a portion of the Native American population is able to overcome the devastating effects of poverty without resorting to a life of alcoholism. Inasmuch as other research samples have demonstrated that poverty is one of the primary motivators toward alcoholism in the Native American community, this study hopes to expound on those established results. However, what this study ultimately seeks to prove is the considerable lack of social assistance offered to the Native Americans in order to help them overcome such a stigma. The importance of such a study cannot be stressed enough, given the fact that there are a number of underlying components at work with regard to poverty’s influence on Native American alcoholism, reaching all the way back in history to the initial confrontation with European settlers and the subsequent forfeiture of Native American land.The methods utilized in this study included a questionnaire and in-person interview where respondents were given multiple choice, true/false, yes/no and fill-in questions, as well as asked to express their feelings to a live interviewer. The questions between the survey and the interview were markedly different so as to get a better perception of various entities that encompass the role of poverty and its detrimental effect upon Native American alcoholism. “Adapting to the mainstream culture while maintaining Native American values of loving the land are common issues” (Kachuba, 1997, p.
54).V. RESULTSResults can be expected to lean in the direction of the anticipated outcome, insofar as the findings will likely indicate that poverty is one of the most influential aspects of Native American alcoholism, proving to exacerbate issues of depression, loneliness and the breakdown of tribal worthiness. Addressing the questions poverty is such an integral component to the statistical number of Native American alcoholics, the researchers will learn the intrinsic association between and among tribal heritage and the staggering affect white privilege has played upon it.
Portions of the survey that touches upon issues of powerlessness will serve to enlighten researchers to the manner by which Native Americans depend upon obtaining their survival from outside sources rather than from their own means (Hassin, 1996).VI. DISCUSSION The rate at which Native American populations are falling into poverty is indeed staggering; not only does this create a threat to the very existence of America’s first inhabitants, but it also speaks volumes about the shabby manner in which the United States government is addressing their socioeconomic needs. Inherent to the plight of Native American poverty has been the ever-escalating concern of alcoholism as a means by which to deal with the undesirable and painful feelings that accompany the sense of personal failure. Once considered to be merely a stereotype of Native American life, alcoholism is truly a real and disastrous fact within the confines of Indian reality. Not only has it been consequential to the overall reputation of the Native American population, but alcoholism has also made it extraordinarily difficult to overcome the disheartening circumstances of poverty.
In effect, it becomes a vicious cycle with no end in sight. “…In general, life on the Navajo lands mirrors the generally depressing state of Indian affairs. Alcoholism is a chronic problem; suicide rates are 30% above the national average” (Anonymous, 1996, p. 33).
VII. CONCLUSION/FUTURE IMPLICATIONS Without an end in sight, due in large part to the lack of support offered by the American judicial system, Native Americans have come to seek the only source of solace that effectively numbs the harsh realities of a poverty-stricken existence. In light of the fact that Indian children are forced to survive in deplorable living conditions at an early age, it can be argued that the incidence of alcoholism will only continue from generation to generation until such time as the Native American community as a whole can improve its socioeconomic conditions.