Encyclopedia Article


The temporary state of a person's physical and mental functions being impaired by the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The history of alcohol use by Native Americans is a long and tortured one. Alcohol was introduced to many North American tribes by European settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, first as an item of trade and later as a substance that was intended to deliberately interfere with the groups’ traditional way of life. Alcohol has been and continues to be extensively "abused" by Native Americans on and off reservations, and the reasons for this abuse are many, and include problems of social, political, and financial nature. None of these reasons, however, can nor should be linked to a supposed indigenous or cultural predilection toward drunkenness. Instead, the effects of poverty, isolation, and lack of educational and other resources are the stimuli that engender alcohol abuse in Native American populations.

In his Navajo detective novels, Tony Hillerman notes both the beauty and the darkness he saw in the Southwest. Substance abuse, physical violence, greed, and crime were examples of the darkness he found; expressions of individual and cultural imbalances whose root causes he depicts as originating in modern U.S. society, rather than as organic to Native communities.

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