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Historical Dislocation and Subjugation of Aboriginal Populations

July 21, 2010

I have written about Dr. Gabor Mate of the Portland Hotel Society in a prior post. I have been listening more closely to his talk to students and faculty at Reed College in Portland, Oregon on February 12, 2010. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/292158-1

I also overheard a conversation at an airport lounge recently. The general topic of discussion was alcohol use by Alaska Natives. The speaker expressed his opinion that Alaska Natives can’t handle alcohol because they haven’t been around it for very long, essentially a restatement of the “genetic hypothesis” for alcohol abuse. I have heard this stated for decades in Alaska, and in the Lower 48 about American Indians. I get upset when I hear the phrase “Drunken Indian” because I know that a majority of my people use alcohol responsibly, if at all. I am also coming to understand, through the ACES research, that addictions, including to alcohol, are likely to happen as a result of trauma inflicted during childhood.

Dr. Mate addresses this topic at Reed College. At approximately 36:30 in the video of his speech, he discusses the genetic hypothesis, and dismisses it as an explanation for addiction in Canada’s Aboriginal population. Instead, he states that “It (addiction) has nothing to do with genetics, it is historical dislocation and, of course, subjugation.” Dr. Mate references the work of Dr. Bruce Alexander, author of “The Globalization of Addiction.” This review of his book comes from Amazon, and since I haven’t read the book (yet), I present it as a more worthy effort than I could make.

“The Globalisation of Addiction presents a radical rethink about the nature of addiction. Scientific medicine has failed when it comes to addiction. There are no reliable methods to cure it, prevent it, or take the pain out of it. There is no durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, or what should be done about it. Meanwhile, it continues to increase around the world. This book argues that the cause of this failure to control addiction is that the conventional wisdom of the 19th and 20th centuries focused too single-mindedly on the afflicted individual addict. Although addiction obviously manifests itself in individual cases, its prevalence differs dramatically between societies. For example, it can be quite rare in a society for centuries, and then become common when a tribal culture is destroyed or a highly developed civilization collapses. When addiction becomes commonplace in a society, people become addicted not only to alcohol and drugs, but to a thousand other destructive pursuits: money, power, dysfunctional relationships, or video games. A social perspective on addiction does not deny individual differences in vulnerability to addiction, but it removes them from the foreground of attention, because social determinants are more powerful. This book shows that the social circumstances that spread addiction in a conquered tribe or a falling civilisation are also built into today’s globalizing free-market society. A free-market society is magnificently productive, but it subjects people to irresistible pressures towards individualism and competition, tearing rich and poor alike from the close social and spiritual ties that normally constitute human life. People adapt to their dislocation by finding the best substitutes for a sustaining social and spiritual life that they can, and addiction serves this function all too well. The book argues that the most effective response to a growing addiction problem is a social and political one, rather than an individual one. Such a solution would not put the doctors, psychologists, social workers, policemen, and priests out of work, but it would incorporate their practices in a larger social project. The project is to reshape society with enough force and imagination to enable people to find social integration and meaning in everyday life. Then great numbers of them would not need to fill their inner void with addictions.”

Our Restoration to Health Strategy is hopefully a project that will “reshape” our tribal society with the force and imagination discussed in the review.

I am also hopeful that we can introduce responsibility for our addictions back into our lives by developing the therapeutic response to help us deal with the childhood trauma’s that make us more susceptible to addictions.

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