Vowel (2016) describes a very prevalent and ugly stereotype that all Indigenous peoples are alcoholics. This is something that I have heard repeated over and over again in public settings and family members in subtle and not so subtle ways. Attaching a label to any group of people, such as this label, is never acceptable, because it is not true for everyone. Often the people that retell this narrative/belief are unaware, or may ignore, the reasons behind why the stereotype was conceived in the first place. Counter-narratives are needed to attempt to turn stereotypes around.
“The root causes are pretty well documented at this point - residential schools, the Indian Act, child welfare issues, Indian agents, geographic isolation, racism, intergenerational trauma - the list goes on” (Vowel, p.151-152)
Substance abuse is not defined by race (Vowel), but I would say that it can be more accurately caused by past traumatic experiences. This starts with colonization. This narrative/stereotype fails to show compassion towards Indigenous peoples and their loss of culture, loss of family/friends and loss of rights and independence. As with any addiction or substance abuse, it is difficult to control and overcome, regardless of race. However, many Indigenous peoples in Canada are not alcoholics.
A better narrative about Indigenous peoples is that they are resilient. They have experienced intergenerational trauma and, likely, daily racism but still manage to show compassion and kindness towards settlers more than resorting to alcohol. In fact, Vowel explained that more Indigenous peoples abstain from alcohol than the general Canadian population. This is not surprising as “Indigenous people tend to have a more negative view of the use of alcohol compared to non-Indigenous people" (Vowel, p. 155), so to assume that all indigenous peoples are alcoholics is guided by misinformation. The negative connotations that Indigenous peoples associate with alcohol stem from settlers that invaded their land; "[alcohol] was deliberately introduced into [Indigenous] communities in highly destructive and violent ways by settlers" (Vowel, p. 156). Here is a photo to sum up my thoughts:
Here are excerpts from Indian Horse (2012) (first p. 180-181, second p. 181 and third p. 189-190 that highlights the reasons for alcoholism among Indigenous peoples, told from the point of view of the main character, Saul Indian Horse.
Why did I chose this stereotype? What insights did I learn about the information to support the counter narrative?
I chose this counter narrative due to the proven facts that debunk the Indigenous alcoholic stereotype. It's a common one that is reinforced by many people that I know, so I thought that it would be the best to debunk in hopes that I can pass along the information. I have never learned about the information that debunks this stereotype and the 3 beliefs that go along with it (Indigenous people cannot metabolize alcohol, all natives are drunk, alcohol abuse is an Indigenous cultural trait) (Vowel, 2016). As well, I think the excerpt from this novel clearly explains the reasons for alcoholism among some Indigenous peoples as the novel follows the experiences and trauma for the character; however, I wonder if narratives similar to this one (that do include an alcoholic Indigenous person) help us towards reconciliation.
How do counter narratives fit in the curriculum?
Counter narratives fit within the Saskatchewan curriculum, especially in grade 8, shown below.
SI82: Assess the impact residential schools have on First Nations communities.
CR8.6 Read and demonstrate comprehension and interpretation of grade-appropriate texts including traditional and contemporary prose fiction, poetry, and plays from First Nations, Métis, and other cultures to evaluate the purpose, message, point of view, craft, values, and biases, stereotypes, or prejudices.
Using a piece of literature, such as Indian Horse or other Indigenous literature, students can work together to identify stereotypes/myth that are presented. Then, through partner research, students debunk the narrative that is presented with factual information. These tasks align with the outcomes above as it requires analysis of the effects of residential schools and critical evaluation of stereotypes that are constantly reinforced. This would be powerful for students to internalize and evaluate what they hear in their community.
Vowel, Chelsea. (2016). Indigenous Writes. A guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada.
Wagamese, Richard. (2012). Indian Horse.