Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Are Treatable Diseases

Notes from Indian Country:

A body is found behind the ice cream parlor on W. Main Street, just around the corner from the office of the Native Sun News and the first thing that goes through the minds of all of our employees as they report to work and see the yellow tape roping off the area is: I wonder if it is an Indian.

Yes, it was and it happened to be the son of a longtime friend of mine who passed away several years ago from complications of diabetes. His name was Myron Rock and the body they found was that of his son Myron Rock, Jr. And the man accused of killing him was also Lakota.

Ninety-five percent of the more than 20,000 Native Americans living off the reservation in Rapid City are hard-working and law-abiding citizens. It deeply wounds all of us when things like this happens because it is a reflection upon all of us as Native Americans and we know that the average white citizen of Rapid City thinks that most of us are of the same caliber. We don't know the circumstances of the killing. We only know that Mr. Rock was beaten to death and that alcohol was a contributing factor.

But it seems to us that these terrible happenings are occurring with much more frequency. Indians are involved in street fights, stabbings, homicidal car accidents that involve drunken drivers and deadly domestic violence that reflect poorly upon all of the Lakota people residing in Rapid City.

The number one contributor to nearly all of these gruesome and deadly events is alcohol and drugs.

The Pine Ridge Reservation recently held an election to determine whether the sale of alcohol should be approved on the reservation. The majority of voters said "yes." We wonder if the consequences would be similar to what we are now seeing in Rapid City where alcohol is readily available. That is a hard question to answer because although the sale of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation has been restricted, the incidence of alcohol related auto accidents and domestic violence due to the consumption of alcohol are still far above the average simply because those choosing to indulge in the consumption of alcohol and drugs can find these products readily available on and off of the reservation.

It all comes down to the point that it is the individual Native American who must take the responsibility of not consuming alcohol or using drugs. For years my newspapers have been editorializing that a massive influx of money must be available to the health providers to create a cadre of trained professionals to attack this deadly problem from the ground up. There is no other solution. The consumption of alcohol and the use of drugs is a disease and it must be attacked as a disease. Locking Native Americans up in jails and prisons does not cure the problem, but may even contribute to it. One does not cure a disease by locking up the sick person. One cures a disease by going to the root of the problem and finding a cure for it.

There have been many good Lakota who saw this problem as a disease and attempted to cure it; people like Melvin "Dickie" Brewer and Glen Three Stars fought it with all of their might, but it seems they could never secure the adequate funding to give it the all-out effort needed to kill the disease. They only got crumbs to fight it with and you can't cure an ingrained disease with crumbs.

And so once more we turn to the Indian Health Service and to the President of the United States himself to please, please send your experts out to Indian Country and give them the tools to cure the disease (alcoholism and drug addiction) that are the number one destroyers of Native Americans. With a massive effort, the job can be accomplished.

We are sick and tired of seeing the lives of our friends and family members demolished because of a treatable disease. And the criminal actions of those Native Americans addicted to these diseases are a continued embarrassment to all Native Americans. And if alcohol addiction is not genetic to Native Americans, I don't know what is.

Tim Giago can be reached at