Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review – Firewater: How Alcohol is killing my People (And Yours), Harold R Johnson


Harold Johnson, a self-declared, former drunk Indian, is the author of this book. In spite of his struggles with alcohol he achieved a standard of notable worthiness, as a lawyer and writer, a Harvard educated one at that.

Firewater is a very insightful and entertaining book.  I highly recommend EVERYONE read it, whether you drink alcohol or not, whether you’re Indigenous or not. Read it all the way to the end!  There are nuggets of wisdom in this book for everyone! Yes, this has been the subject of books before but I promise you Johnson brings a fresh perspective to this topic.

For example he writes that Treaty No. 6 signed in 1876 included a provision to disallow intoxicating liquor to be introduced or sold to the Indians.  I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve read that particular Treaty and yet I never paid attention to that section. It appears that Treaty No. 6 was breached as soon as it was signed, and nobody noticed!  I was also surprised to learn that The Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples Report (RCAP) 1996 only dedicated less than 8 pages to the subject of alcoholism.  Their report was 4,000 pages long!  Clearly they didn’t want to look too closely at this topic.
 
Johnson writes that first and foremost a call for ACTION…begins with an honest conversation about alcohol. He is not talking about addictions - he is talking about alcohol.  Hence, the book’s title Firewater.  I imagine some of you might be thinking but they are the same thing, right?  No, Johnson makes a clear distinction that they are not.

He doesn’t beat around the bush either, but instead addresses his topic directly with such intensity that it can’t be ignored. The stories he describes in his book are tough, brutal, and powerfully illustrated. The stories will touch you deeply and make you cry (at least they made me cry). He states unequivocally, “None of this is easy to write, to speak of. We want to hide it away.”  Indeed, many of us continue to turn a blind eye to this problem as we watch our relatives being led to jail or tearfully bury others whose lives end up in a too early and tragic death.
 
He also draws a convincing correlation between alcohol and its financial impact on society. I am sure you’ve heard statistics regarding alcohol and the impact it has on Indigenous people. But Johnson shocks you with statistics. He states that alcohol not only impacts the individual, but its impact is far more reaching than we have considered.

Furthermore, he skillfully steers the reader through a logical sequence of traditional storytelling, which allows for the possibility of creating a new story about alcohol.  About changing the ‘drunken Indian’ story… a story that is killing us. He writes, “We can think about those of us who walk in a sober way, people who create their own paths and have freed their minds from the alcohol story.” He goes further and makes strong recommendations on moving forward for the communities and the individual on how to change this story.

Community leaders, grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, the conversation on alcohol has shifted.  It is not the same recycled ‘drunken Indian story’ – but a different one - one which will serve us properly. 

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