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Alcohol and Aboriginal people

The Story

The drunken Indian has been a cruel stereotype in Canada since long before Confederation. Yet alcohol abuse is a genuine problem on many reserves, and fear of evoking that shameful label may have held people back from taking action - until now. Plagued by neglected children, petty crime and compromised health, some Aboriginal communities in 1979 are pointing to booze as the source of their problems. As Eric Malling of CBC-TV's The Fifth Estate learns, they're battling the bottle with total bans.

Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1979
Guests: Napoleon Case, Joan Dunn, Allan Gilbert, Lionel Jones, Phil LaPierre, Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, Roy Moose, Eva Moose, Jim Neighbours, Robert Sayin, Dr. Schaffer
Reporter: Eric Malling
Duration: 28:20

Did You know?

• Aboriginal people in Canada were long subject to alcohol restrictions that were not imposed on the rest of society. Booze was intimately tied up in the fur trade, and beginning in 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company sought to limit its use as currency when trading with aboriginal people.

• The sale of alcohol to Aboriginal people was prohibited under Indian Acts of the pre-Confederation era. Only in 1951 did federal laws change so that Aboriginal people could legally purchase alcohol.

• Contrary to some of the findings in this clip, more recent studies have not found that responses to alcohol differ between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in any significant way.

• According to a 2006 article in the Toronto Star, the success of "dry" Aboriginal communities is dubious. Band councils have proven unsuccessful in their efforts to keep bootleggers from bringing booze into a community, and police - usually the RCMP - have limited rights to search people coming in.

• Though a higher percentage of Aboriginal people abstain from alcohol than does the general population, problem drinking is more serious among Aboriginal people. An estimated 17 per cent of the general population are problem drinkers, compared with 35 per cent of aboriginal people.

-- Toronto Star, Dec. 4, 2006  



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