Lesson 2 – The Wanderer: Journey for answers
Goal: Recognize wandering state
Journey to find answers
Activity: Watch Dean Azule’s interview on Video 1
When we are young and have been disconnected from family, we often have internal question about our lives, we wonder what life would be like if our current situations were different. What if my parents or I didn’t drink all the time? Or for those who grew up without parents, which is common among our Native people. Why did my parents have to die and leave me alone? If you were given to other family members you might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t my parents want me? What is wrong with me?” These questions can consume our lives and sometimes we never find the answers. For whatever reason we begin searching for something to fulfill our lives we sometimes do things during that wandering stage that creates more unhealthy circumstances.
Dean was sent to a Catholic boarding school because he started getting in trouble and his grand-parents decided it was best for him to receive religious guidance along with an education that would prepare him for adulthood and the hopes that he would follow a religious lifestyle. Dean eventually became influenced by his peers and began using alcohol at a very young age.
When Dean graduated from St. Johns Catholic School he realized he wanted to find something better than his life on the reservation, he had read many books and learned about different places he would like to see, so he left his family and began his journey hitch hiking searching for that “something” he felt was missing, something to make his life better.
I was a voracious reader, and that opened my eyes a lot, I would read about places, other states and about other tribe and other situations. I really wanted to get out and explore. When I left the mission boarding school, I ended up hitchhiking,
I lived in the Bay area for a while and had a fun time there. But again, it was all for the wrong reasons; I found myself drinking at an early age.
Memories of Alcohol Use
Dean Azule’s recalls his life with his mother because his father had left them and the burden of raising the children alone with all the financial responsibilities were left to her and Dean describes his mother as a very good mother who worked, fed them, made sure they went to school, and loved them as best as she could while taking on the responsibility of a single parent. What we don’t see is the “true emotional state” our parents may be in because they hide their feelings to protect us from their pain but in other situations parents may demonstrate emotions of anger and violence for other emotional things that they don’t share with anyone and these emotions can influence their unhealthy behaviors as well. As we enter adulthood we don’t realize that we have taken on the same behaviors as our parents or the people who have raised us and it creates health issues in our lives.
Dean’s accounts of alcohol use by himself, his mother, an uncle, and youth on the reservation and those who were attending the Catholic School are a similar scenario for many Native people who share their life stories that influence their alcohol use and can eventually lead to having some type of health issues.
… the priests and the brothers and the sisters preached a lot about abstinence, you don’t want to drink because like other generations of your people, you don’t want to become drunks, alcoholics. I think a lot of that settled in with a lot of us. But the problem was, once we left the boarding school…They (other Pima youth) would come back with all of their tales of fun from the summer and a lot of it involved drinking. It sounded like a lot of kids were drinking several times a week. Maybe they weren’t drinking that steadily yet but they were already drinking and this was in high school and this made you think why do they have all the fun. It made you think, “Why can’t we, why can’t I do this?” It was really a mixed message
Alcohol and Diabetes
Alcohol used in moderation won’t do much damage to our bodies but alcohol use for long periods of time can cause damage to our internal organs such as the pancreas which is vital to regulating our glucose levels; glucose is a nutrient broken down from carbohydrates like bread, as the glucose amounts increase in the bloodstream, the pancreas receives a signal to release insulin. The insulin attaches to a place on the cell like a key into a lock which opens the door for glucose to enter the cell, for example glucose is used for energy and muscle cells need energy to contract. So when we use alcohol it can damage our pancreas.
History and Alcohol
Use of alcohol among Native people didn’t occur until after the Europeans came to Indian Country in the mid seventeenth century. British and French colonists distilled the liquor and alcohol became a common item in fur trading. Native people at first didn’t drink the alcohol that was given as a gesture in creating alliances between the Europeans but when Native people developed the taste for alcohol, mainly rum at the time, the colonist realized that Native people drank to be drunk and social behaviors changed to violent behaviors with fighting and in some cases murdering one another. Many young men lost their lives due to accidents like falling off a cliff, falling into the river and drowning, and burning in a fire. The colonist began using this to create havoc among Native people. This tactic of the Europeans started inter-generational behavior that is found among Native people today.
It’s not by chance that alcohol appears to be the drug of choice used by Native people, as history documented by colonist’s shows that they used alcohol as a tactic measure to cheat Natives during fur trading to steal valuable items and our ancestral lands. Alcohol has played a large part in our history and health status, until we remove this damaging substance from our lives and communities the European colonists’ will always have a hold on our lives whether we understand how or are unable to see it, the “truth” can be found within the written history of the colonist and in the oral stories of our Native elders passed on from our ancestors.
Activity – Draw a picture representing your thoughts/responses to these paragraphs.
Introduction of Alcohol through the Fur Trade: A Brief Overview
“The people traded anything they owned for alcohol, which left them destitute and defenseless against winter temperatures. This was not quality alcohol. The so-called whiskey given out by traders for buffalo robes and other furs was a lethal concoction of alcohol mixed with anything that would give it colour and substance—bluestone, burnt sugar, castile soap, Jamaica Ginger, Perry Davis Painkiller, tea, ink and sometimes, horrifically, strychnine (a poison).”
Margaret A. Kennedy The Whiskey Trade of the Northwestern Plains
“The drovers (traders) had mixed capsicum, molasses and tobacco before leaving Fort Benton; then they had filled the tins up with river water and whiskey. There was enough whiskey to make the Indians drunk and enough water to make it profitable.”
–James Welch Fools Crow
“You take one barrel of Missouri River water, and two gallons of alcohol. Then you add two ounces of strychnine (poison) to make them go crazy—because strychnine is the greatest stimulant in the world—and three plugs of tobacco to make them sick—an Indian wouldn’t figure it was whisky unless it made him sick—and five bars of soap to give it a bead, and half a pound of red pepper, and then you put in some sagebrush and boil it until it’s brown. Strain into a bottle, and you’ve got Indian whisky; that one bottle calls for one buffalo robe and when the Indian got drunk it was two robes.”
—“Teddy Blue” Abbott in We Pointed Them North.
Based on events in our Native history, how has alcohol affected our lives and communities today?
Has alcohol contributed to the death of a loved one? What happens when we are in denial of having diabetes?
Alcohol was used to trick our elders and warriors into selling their properties at a cheap price, how does this tactic make you feel about alcohol use?
Write your personal thoughts or feelings of our Native history, alcohol use, disease, and unhealthy social behaviors.