As the final assignment for my Native Peoples of North America class, I am going to be writing a research paper on a topic that in some way concerns Native Americans. Since I was able to choose the topic for the paper, I decided to focus on alcoholism on reservations. This decision was sparked by a journal article that we read earlier in the semester that looked at the incidence of alcoholism and depression on the Flathead reservation. In “Feeling Worthless”: An Ethnographic Investigation of Depression and Problem Drinking at the Flathead Reservation, the author called into question how these disorders should be diagnosed and treated given the cultural differences between Native Americans and Non-natives. I found this discussion very interesting, especially because alcoholism and depression were two disorders that I learned about in my Abnormal Psychology class. Thinking about the contrast between my Psychology and Anthropology classes, I was curious to see what research had been done on the topic of alcoholism and how cultural differences were taken into account in these studies. I also wanted to look into some of the causes of alcoholism among Native Americans, such as cultural, economic, and psychological, as well as any effective treatments that have been implemented on reservations.
Another reason why I chose to investigate how this disorder affects Native Americans is because alcoholism is something that I believe has become associated with this ethnic group during the past few decades. When discussing Native Americans in any context, there is often mention of the problem of alcoholism on reservations and the negative effects it has on Native American society. Media outlets continue to focus their attention on this topic, and alcoholism has even become a part of the stereotype for Native Americans. Here are just a couple of news articles that I found that discussed this issue: http://www.netnebraska.org/article/news/fighting-alcoholism-pine-ridge-indian-reservation-about-more-money, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/10/17/indianfasd. Although I do not doubt that the problems of Native American alcoholism are real and serious, I also wonder how much of what has been reported is ethnocentric or misconstrued. In researching this paper, I want to discover the truth about this issue and clear up any misinformation that may be circulating within mainstream society. For example, do Native Americans really drink more than the average American? If so, to what degree and under what circumstance does this occur? Do Native Americans have a lower tolerance level biologically compared to other ethnic groups? These are just a few of the questions that are driving my research on this topic and to which I hope to find answers. Additionally, the severity of this issue is often downplayed through jokes and comments in the media. Recently, the TV show “Mike and Molly” was criticized for a joke featured on one of their episodes about “drunk Indians” in Arizona. Several prominent Native Americans spoke out about the joke saying they were offended that the show would make fun of such a serious disorder that affects the lives of so many people (Here is a link to the joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiRDzW-liF0). By investigating alcoholism on reservations, I hope to emphasize the severity of this issue and raise awareness of the negative effects that this disorder has on family members as well as the society as a whole. I think that it is very important that the public be accurately informed and cognizant of the incidence of alcoholism on Native American reservations.
As I began researching, one of the main problems I have found is making my question more specific. There are numerous reservations within the United States and several different angles from which I could approach the topic of alcoholism. However, there is one journal article that I have found that has greatly interested me and influenced how I want to address this issue. In the article Early-Onset Alcohol Use Among Native American Youth: Examining Female Caretaker Influence, the author investigates whether caretaker alcohol use has an effect on adolescent behavior and alcohol consumption. The study’s findings suggest that caretaker substance use does impact adolescent drinking for two reasons: the effect that alcohol has on the caretaker’s parenting and the adolescent modeling his/her caretaker’s behavior. This article interested me because I have learned about parent-child relations in several of my Psychology classes, and I find the dynamics between parents and children very fascinating. As I continue to collect sources for my paper, I may decide to focus my search on how parenting is affected by alcoholism and how this could in turn affect children’s alcohol consumption. For me, this approach to alcoholism is very important because this disorder can sometimes create a vicious cycle, with generations of people suffering from alcoholism before the cycle is eventually broken. However, my decision will ultimately be limited by how much research is available on this particular topic.