Ya'at'eeh doo wooshdee, yahinaa! (Hello and come inside). I am an elder from the Navajo Nation. I am here to give you a brief introduction on the history of alcohol among all our nations. Alcohol has been one of the most devastating sicknesses passed onto all of our Native Nations. It has been an enormous burden, both physically and mentally. These problems have led to many stereotypes about our native people. Those who do not know natives (other than those seen on television) may see us all as alcoholics and dirty Indians. They only see those who do drink, but DON’T see those who maintain sober and productive lives. Most people do not see the true beauty of our cultures. Our cultures are different as we are all different nations. There are nearly two million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States, and there are approximately 300 different Nations or language groups. So you see we are not just one tribal nation. We all have our different histories with the government, but we have a similar history when it comes to alcohol.
Before the bilaga’ana (white people) came to this land, most native populations had little or no experience with alcohol and its effects. Some tribes produced weak fermented beverages, which were generally used in certain ceremonies. Even then, alcohol was used in limited and healthy amounts. Therefore, when the bilaga'ana introduced this beverage in large amounts, natives had little time to adjust to it socially and traditionally. When it was used for trade for skins of animals and other goods, natives saw the traders drink in large amounts of alcohol. So our people drank this new beverage in large amounts just like the traders and other colonists. From the beginning this behavior was passed down from generation to generation. It is no wonder tribes have problems with alcohol. But we cannot put all the blame on bilaga’anas, because now we have a choice.
We need to show our people that through moderation we can overcome these problems with alcohol. I have lived a long life and have seen what alcohol does to our people and nations. MODERATION OR NO ALCOHOL is the key. I cannot tell people what to do; we all have a choice. I do have to say one thing: Think about all the possibilities life can offer without alcohol.
Ahehee'! Hagoone! (Thank you and see you later)
Quote from a traditional Navajo diagnostician about alcohol
“It is like some kind of spirit that exists with danger and something on the scale of war. It travels around everywhere. People say someone died from this and that and yet it is much bigger. We are at war with this thing yet we don’t know, we just don’t know where and how it travels to destroy people…on the scale of disease. We need to have many medicine men get together and see what is happening to us. We need to discuss what is happening to people. We may never know the real cause but if we fight it together we will curb it.”