Aboriginal communities in Australia are facing a dilemma: preserve hard-won freedoms or cede some control to their former oppressors? At the center of this tug-of-war is the consumption and possible prohibition of alcohol in Aboriginal communities. According to a recent New York Times article, alcoholism is a major issue for the native population resulting in problems like domestic violence, child abuse, unemployment, health problems, increased crime and accidents.
After a long history of subjugation and oppression by the colonial whites who moved in on Australian territory long ago, Aborigines became equal under the law in 1967. Since then, Aborigines have had equal access to rights ranging from State-sponsored welfare payments to the right to legally purchase and consume alcohol. Once the prohibition on drinking was lifted, it seems as if a number of Aborigines took too kindly to the bottle to the detriment of their communities.
Take Hall’s Creek in northern Australia for example, “about half of the town’s population has alcohol-related problems, including 300 to 600 people with serious health issues like brain damage, said David Shepherd, a senior doctor at Halls Creek Hospital. Young women born with fetal alcohol syndrome are giving birth to babies with the same illness.” Concerned about issues such as child welfare and the proper use of government funds, Australian officials have begun regulating alcohol sale/purchase in some areas. Additionally, the government is keeping a close eye on how welfare funds are spent, going so far as to “have 70 percent of [Aboriginies’] benefits restricted to paying for essentials like food, rent and utilities, a strategy intended to reduce their purchase of alcohol.”
While sure to point out that White Australians as a whole drink more than Aborigines, the people at Creative Spirits say that those Aborigines who do drink, are more likely to do so at “hazardous levels”.
Understandably, many Aborigines are upset by the increased government involvement in their affairs. The older folks remember a time when their rights were significantly undercut and they value the autonomy they possess today. In order to strike a balance between needing to handle the increasing problem of alcoholism and the desire to remain autonomous regarding indigenous affairs, many Aboriginal communities have take to self-regulation. Yes, they are reaching out to the government themselves and asking that alcohol not be sold in their territories. Since communities have gone “dry”, they report some improvement, although critics believe that the drinkers have simply traveled elsewhere to get their fix.
Check out the entire NYT story here. I thought it was rather interesting given our own history in this country with Native communities and alcoholism. I only wish the article had gone into how alcohol and other vices have been used throughout history to control and “enslave” indigenous people the world over. Whether it’s with booze, drugs, or shiny things, if you can get the people addicted, you can weaken their infrastructure, erode their culture, turn them against one another and eventually take over.
While the US government couldn’t prohibit sovereign, Native communities from drinking, Uncle Sam does regulate other aspects of our lives in our own “best interest.” For example, it is the law that you buckle up in the car whether you feel like it or not. For all of the freedoms we have in this country, you do not have the choice to wear a seatbelt or not. Why? Well it’s for your own safety. Other times, the government regulates our behavior or limits our freedom for the greater good or the safety of others. We don’t moan and groan about those kinds of things too much because I think when it’s all said and done, we realize that it’s better for everyone to go along. However, when you have always been subject to the opinions and decisions of white colonialists and then government bureaucrats, you are less likely to want to let them into any facet of your life, even if in the end it’s for your own good.