What does “Drink like an Indian” mean anyway?

I saw an advertisement on Facebook over the weekend promoting McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon in Washington, DC. The image had pilgrim and Indian caricatures at the top. Slogans underneath the pictures read “Party like a pilgrim” and “Drink like an Indian.”


Isn’t that stereotypical? You would think that the people who live in the nation’s capital would be more educated about something like this. But no, we see some of the most ignorant things about tribal people coming out of urban areas nowadays. I am tired of explaining why I am offended by images like this. Should I just give up and keep quiet? Maybe I should just join the other tribal people who aren’t offended by things which demean our people.


What really irks me is how some people think perhaps they should be living up to things like this. Our children are so susceptible; what if one sees this image and believes that because they are Indian they are supposed to drink? What does “Drink like an Indian” mean anyway?


We never know what goes through the minds of non-Indians when they come up with crap like this. Do the people who see this image assume that Indians are all heavy drinkers or light drinkers or social drinkers? Can someone please clarify for me exactly what “Drink like an Indian” means? Which Indian are they talking about? I am sure if you ask different Indians what the slogan means you will get a variety of answers.


Now it’s a hard fact that there are scores of Indian people, living in both the cities and on the Rez, who regularly drink unbelievable amounts of alcohol in a single night. There are also common instances of alcohol overdosing done over an entire weekend. Sometimes the drinking continues non-stop for several days. Which one of these scenarios is meant by the phrase “Drink like an Indian?”


Still, we also have tribal members who do not drink at all. Some have never, ever tasted alcohol their whole entire life. Others will drink a glass of wine or a beer once or twice a year. So, was the ad referring to the Indians who rarely or never drink alcohol at all?


I would like answers to my questions about what is meant when slogans promoting bars and alcohol make reference to tribal people. I don’t know what experience the person who made up the slogan had with Indian people to begin with and I will probably never know. After all, who knows what was going through the mind of the person who designed the ad in the first place. Maybe the person who made up this slogan doesn’t even know exactly what they meant by it either. Sometimes ignorance will often cause people to say or write things which don’t even make sense.


Thursday is designated as Thanksgiving, a national holiday in the United States. As most of us already know, Thanksgiving would not be observed if it were not for the tribal people of this continent. It was the tribes of the east coast who motivated the pilgrims to give thanks because without them, the newcomers would have surely starved.


Last month the country celebrated Columbus. He was the Italian whose boat mistakenly washed up on the shore of what he assumed was India. He is the one who began the rush which changed our way of life forever.


Sometimes I like to imagine what would have happened if his ship had instead sunk deep into the sea before he made it ashore. Would the insidious, albeit legal, devastating drug we know as alcohol have been introduced into tribal societies if we had never been “discovered?” If Columbus had indeed perished at sea we may not have been “discovered” for a very long time, if at all. There would be no Manifest Destiny.


Personally, I believe it would be great to live a life where my fellow tribal members and I are not stereotyped based upon the irresponsible behavior of a few who seem hopelessly addicted to that awful liquid drug. But the reality is when our fellow tribal members make the personal choice to overdose on alcohol they are setting the stereotypical standard by which the rest of us are judged.


I believe it would be awesome if we could shift the stereotypical standard associated with Indians to one where we are looked upon as a sober people. How do we reach the point where sobriety is our stereotype? It would be great to be stereotyped for something positive for a change. There would be no offensive ads depicting Indians overdosing on alcohol.


Today, I still have very high hopes for our young people to break these stereotypical images which much of mainstream America associates with Indian people. We have young people now taking steps to change these images. They are living drug-free lives. They attend school every day and study hard so they can become educated.


In closing, this week I am grateful for all of our young people. I have to acknowledge and send kudos to all of our young people who attended and participated in the 5th Annual Tusweca Tiospaye Lakota-Dakota-Nakota Language Summit held in Rapid City, SD last week. Tusweca Tiospaye unites the Oceti Sakowin every year with this summit for the purpose of revitalizing the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota language.


Many of our young people have a burning desire to become fluent Lakota speakers. They work hard every day of their lives to do just that. They have often voiced their desire to see a younger generation of fluent Lakota speakers. Many of them also work with their younger siblings to help them become Lakota speakers and would appreciate any help a fluent speaker can offer.


These are the Takoja who are entrusted with carrying on our Lakota way of life. I would love to see the day we when we are stereotyped for having an entire generation who speak fluent Lakota.

Published by Vi Waln


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