COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Nov. 30, 2012

Perry Bergson
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Last week I read an article on CBC about the rise of public intoxication in Prince Albert:  “Public Intoxication a Growing Problem in Prince Albert, Sask.” -- Nov. 19. There was a graph showing the spike, as well as a comparison with Regina and Saskatoon, which were both slightly lower, though they each have higher populations.

The article didn’t label one group in particular, but if you scrolled down to the comment section, it became instantly obvious that people interpreted the group to be drunken Indians.

There, I said it. For all the politically correct people who talked around the fringes believing if they didn’t say “drunken Indians” technically they weren’t being racist, right?


It’s still racist if it’s implied, suggested or alluded to. The distinction becomes much more subtle though -- covert racism.

I’ve been downtown; on Central Avenue, to Gateway Mall, to the river paths -- all the areas which are presumably littered with drunken Indians. Guess what? There are a lot of Indians downtown, but I haven’t run into many drunken ones.

I used to work in an office off Central and during lunch hours I would go to the mall or for a quick stroll. Many times I saw Indians, but rarely did I cross paths with a drunk. If I was approached at all, nine times out of ten it was for a cigarette. I don’t smoke, so problem solved -- though if I’d have had them, I would have gladly given them all away.

If you watch the two-minute video in conjunction with the article, you get the sense that most public intoxication occurs at nighttime after the bars close and people pour out onto the streets. How is that surprising anywhere in the world? That is what drunken people do. They typically exit bars or lounges, taking their party elsewhere, or if they’re more responsible -- heading home to sleep it off.

I’m not saying public drunkenness doesn’t exist in Prince Albert. Clearly it does. I’m just not sure we should all point our fingers at every Indian that happens to be downtown at any given point of the day.

As the police officer says in the video, people have to want to help themselves. However, I would add that people who stumble around public places drunk tend to have an addiction.

I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that addictions are often symptomatic of underlying dynamics, trauma or repressed issues. Addictions are distracting and all-consuming removing the focus from issues that should be addressed. Sadly though, addictions tend to exacerbate problems, compounding the issues that someone must eventually face, if they ever hope to lead a clean, healthy life.

People of lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to face barriers and obstacles in all aspects of life, which makes addictions much more appealing -- coping mechanisms gone awry.

If we’re looking specifically at Aboriginal groups, let me offer a compendium of recurrent topics that could definitely cause an addiction: Indian Act imposed on Indians with the intent to assimilate them; exposure to diseases, forced confinement to reserves; the pass and permit system; residential schools -- complete with sexual, mental & physical abuse; families ripped apart; ceremonies, culture & languages banished; alcohol introduced to Aboriginals; foreign cultures, religions and languages forced upon them and the intergenerational effects that follow like a big, scary, ominous shadow. Let’s not forget the emotional scarring that resulted too -- feelings like; shame, guilt, anger, sorrow, depression, grief, rage, helplessness and self-hatred to name a few.

These are not excuses. I am merely providing a little insight to those who judge Aboriginals without understanding their history. Still, Aboriginal people are a resilient bunch and things look brighter every day.

If you’re one of my regular column readers, I know you’re probably already quite open-minded -- or at least you’re trying to be, which is laudable too. But if this is the first time you’re reading my column, and you’re only begrudgingly doing so at the behest of someone you know, my next statement might shock you. Here she goes: I’m a sober tax-paying Indian. Wonder of wonders! We exist. In fact, I know many sober tax-paying Indians -- people who never drink, though some might have once before.

I know Aboriginals who have quit drinking because of addictions; I know some who have never had a sip in their whole life because they are so strongly into their culture. I was an occasional drinker who now prefers to stay sober because I like early mornings, meditation and yoga and any amount of drinking tends to disrupt that balance. Also, I’ve always thought that there was something very admirable about people who can abstain from drinking. Such self-control is inspiring.

Despite how it has been portrayed lately, I still think Prince Albert is a beautiful city. I think many of Saskatchewan’s cities are growing, becoming more diverse and attitudes are changing.

I am always excited to hear from readers -- particularly those who are not Aboriginal and are making an effort to bridge the gap, like me -- meeting in the middle. I’ve heard of groups of people voluntarily reading about residential schools in an effort to better understand Canada’s history. I heard from a man who was raised by a racist family, but doesn’t feel the same way and proudly stands up to racism today. I keep discovering new people who are making a difference, and that makes me proud to live in Saskatchewan.

So yes, if you see a drunken person in public and it seems out of place for the hour or location, go ahead and shake your head and mutter under your breath. Shame on that individual! I feel the same way. Let’s have coffee together and discuss how the government really ought to spend more on social programs so we can eradicate addictions.

Just leave that person’s race out of it, unless you’re willing to confront the whole history of issues that race has been subjected to. Otherwise we might all get depressed and the idea of getting a “real drink” might become too tempting.

Organizations: Prince Albert, CBC

Geographic location: Prince Albert, Sask., Regina, Saskatoon Central Avenue Saskatchewan Canada

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