When did native americans get the right to vote and drink alcohol?


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When did it become legal in Arizona for Native Americans to buy alcohol and to vote?
~Submitted by Mel H.


Native American right to vote

The American Indians who served during World War I returned home to a country that did not recognize them as citizens. They had fought for the country, but could not vote for the president.

The Indian Citizenship Act, passed in 1924, finally gave the indigenous peoples of the United States the right to vote.

The Melungeons, who were located in the southern Appalachias, were a mixed race people who almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees.

The Melungeons were ‘discovered’ in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being “dark-skinned with fine European features.” One theory is they were descended from people of mixed ancestry in Spanish settlements in the South East who kept moving into the interior to avoid English colonists.

Melungeon people were discriminated against by their Scots-Irish and English neighbors as they moved into the areas where the Melungeons lived.

The newcomers wanted the rich valley lands occupied by the Melungeons they found residing there. They discriminated against the Melungeons because they were darker skinned than their own anglo-saxon ancestors and because this helped them obtain the lands they coveted.

This discrimination carried into the 1940’s-50’s and perhaps even longer because of the work of a man called Plecker who was the state of Virginia’s Director of Vital Statistics and an avowed racist.

He labeled the Melungeons, calling them mongrels and other worse terms – some were labeled FPC – Free Person of Color in Virginia. This in turn led to their children being labeled as Mulatto and both of those terms came to mean African American. So people of that ancestry did not get the right to vote until the civil rights movement in 1964 brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which gave all black Americans the right to vote.

It was not until 1960 that Parliament passed a new Canada Elections Act, which confirmed the right to vote, without conditions, of all adult Aboriginal Canadians.
Status Indians in most parts of Canada had the right to vote from Confederation on, but only if they gave up their treaty rights and Indian status through a process defined in the Indian Act and known as “enfranchisement.” Understandably, very few were willing to do this.

Métis people were not excluded from voting because few were covered by treaties, so there were no special rights or other basis on which to justify disqualifying them.

Inuit were not excluded either, except from 1934 to 1950. Most were geographically isolated well into the twentieth century, so in the absence of special efforts to enable them to vote, they had no means to exercise that right.

Pre-contact alcohol consumption

Most of the indigenous peoples of North America possessed no alcohol before Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. Only the Native peoples of the modern-day southwestern United States and Mexico consumed alcohol in any form.

Prior to contact, fermented beverages were used from southern Arizona to Mexico. The Pimas and Papagos used alcohol for ceremonial purposes. The Yumans, Apaches, and Zunis used it informally and secularly, according to Harold Driver.

The peoples who possessed alcohol before 1492 used fermented beverages only in specific rituals. The Tepehuanes and Tarahumaras, who inhabited territory in modern-day northern Mexico, fermented corn to produce tesvino, which they consumed at ceremonies to mark important stages in an individual’s life, such as the passage to adulthood. The belief in the sacred potential of alcohol survived for centuries. In modern times, these indigenous peoples began to offer some of their alcohol to Jesus before they drank.

The Pimas and Papagos, who continue to inhabit traditional lands in the southwestern United States, extracted an intoxicating juice from saguaro cactus. They drank in a ritual designed to appease the divine forces that brought rain to their often-arid world. Believing the amount of rain in a year depended on the amount of the cactus liquor they consumed during a specific ritual, they often drank to the point of drunkenness.

The Aztecs of Mexico drank pulque, which they fermented from the maguey. Like other indigenous peoples, they believed alcohol had sacred force, that whoever drank it gained access to divine powers. As a result, the Aztecs created elaborate rules for when alcohol could be consumed and who could drink it. If someone drank at an illegal time or if someone who did not have the right to drink it consumed alcohol, the punishment was death.

By contrast, the Mayas, who fermented balche from bark and honey, allowed more widespread consumption of alcohol though still within set limits. In Maya society drinking balche on certain days allowed macehuales (commoners) to express their emotions freely and thus relieve potential tension that might otherwise exist between them and the principales, who controlled the resources of the society.

For the Mayas, consumption of balche remained a fixture of holidays long after the Spanish arrived.

By 1776, the Pueblos of the Upper Rio Grande had been encouraged by the Spaniards to learn viniculture to supply wine for church needs. By 1850, these Pueblos purchased whiskey from shops located within the villages themselves and refused to have dealings with Indian Agents unless gifts of whiskey, sugar, and coffee were made.

But, for the majority of Native American societies, they were exposed to alcohol at the same time that they had to cope with the far-reaching changes in their lives brought about by European colonization.

Societies that valued dreams and visions as the means to enter the realm of the supernatural did not immediately see the difference between alcohol and the already familiar lobelia inflate, data stramonium, peyote, tobacco, and so on.

European influences on alcohol use in the Americas

Although these peoples possessed alcohol and established rules for its consumption before Europeans arrived, colonization altered drinking patterns. The Spanish created facilities to produce aguardiente (burning water), thereby expanding the amount of alcohol available. Soon, drinking became more widespread and was no longer confined to set holidays.

The increase in the amount of drinking contributed to an increase in social pathologies, such as violence within communities, though scholars believe Native peoples’ prior experience with alcohol enabled them to exert some control over the potentially most devastating threats posed by liquor.

In other parts of North America in most of modern-day United States and Canada, liquor first arrived when Europeans landed, but the trade did not start at the dawn of the colonial period. Although some Europeans no doubt offered Native Americans alcohol when they met, possibly in gestures meant to solidify alliances, the real trade in alcohol did not begin until the mid seventeenth century, when British and French colonists recognized that sugar produced in the West Indies could be distilled in the Western Hemisphere and sold as liquor in North America.

From 1650 onward, alcohol became a common item in the fur trade. Native Americans who had developed a taste for alcohol purchased rum from the English and brandy from the French. The trade had particular importance for the English, because North American colonists and American Indians had a greater fondness for rum than Europeans.

In fact, colonists consumed far more alcohol than Native Americans (perhaps seven shots of distilled beverages each day by 1770, according to one estimate). But whatever social pathologies they suffered did not undermine their society, and thus no widespread movement for temperance took hold during the colonial period.

Problems developed when alcohol entered the fur trade

As soon as the liquor trade began, colonists came to believe that it created havoc in Native communities. They were right. Indigenous and colonial observers reported that Native Americans who consumed alcohol did so only to become intoxicated. Those who became drunk fought with each other and with members of their families; they eroded the civility that normally characterized relations in indigenous communities. They fell into fires or off cliffs or drowned, and they at times murdered others, thereby opening raw wounds that communities struggled to heal.

Not all Indians drank, and surviving records suggest that those most likely to drink to drunkenness and then engage in some form of social pathology were young men, though ample examples of women and the elderly drinking exist as well.

Since young men were the community members who often had control of the furs or skins taken during the hunting season, their desire for alcohol had devastating consequences when some of them chose to exchange the rewards of their annual hunt for liquor, which they drank quickly.

As a result, poverty became more widespread, thereby diminishing indigenous peoples’ efforts to cope with the threats to their cultural, spiritual, and economic existence brought by colonists.

Over time, Natives and newcomers alike tried to find ways to limit the horrific consequences of the alcohol trade. Each colony passed laws to prohibit the commerce in liquor. More important, Native peoples organized opposition to the trade. They protested to colonial officials about nefarious traders who lured young men with alcohol, and they organized temperance campaigns to halt consumption.

Although some of these efforts reflected the teachings of Catholic and Protestant missionaries, the most successful anti-drinking programs emanated from within Indian communities. As the Catawba headman Hagler put it when he met with North Carolina emissaries in 1754, “You rot your grain in tubs, out of which you take and make Strong Spirits.” Colonists should desist from such practices, he and others argued, since the liquor trade only caused violence and despair in Indian country.

Despite their efforts, the liquor trade thrived in the colonial period, because traders recognized that alcohol was an ideal commodity. The demand for most trade items, such as manufactured clothing, was limited, but the demand for alcohol was theoretically infinite. Colonial officials in New France and British America who realized the horrors caused by alcohol also recognized the value of the trade.

As Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies, informed the Lords of Trade in 1764, “…the commerce might cause problems, but the Trade will never be so extensive without rum.”

Temperance efforts

The most notable temperance efforts in the nineteenth-century West were those led by Native Americans. The Pawnees, for example, limited alcohol consumption in their communities in the early nineteenth century, and so did various Native peoples who followed the teachings of indigenous revival movements.

Iroquois Handsome Lake, the Shawnee prophet Tenkswatawa, and a Delaware woman named Beate convinced their followers to abandon alcohol. Later leaders of cultural revival movements also embraced temperance. The Paiute Wovoka, for example, made temperance part of the Ghost Dance, a movement that swept the Plains in the late nineteenth century.

Still, neither federal laws nor temperance efforts ended the scourge of drinking in Indian country. By the mid-nineteenth century, alcohol abuse had taken a toll on the Sioux and Chippewas, among others, according to one government report.

In the following decades, which brought untold horror to Native Americans across the Plains and in the West, liquor continued to arrive in indigenous communities. During the twentieth century, the range of social pathologies associated with liquor was simply astonishing.

According to estimates, the alcoholism mortality rate was six times higher for Indians than for the general U.S. population, and alcohol-related trauma or disease accounted for seven out of ten admissions to Indian Health Service clinics. Two Native Americans die each day from alcohol or other drug-related motor vehicle crashes.

Fetal alcohol syndrome had a devastating impact in indigenous communities. Despite the fact that many Native Americans avoided liquor, alcohol also played an enormous role in homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths caused by motor vehicles and exposure. Although alcohol-related problems in indigenous communities were widespread, no single pattern of drinking existed.

Alcohol Laws and the native american

The impression is often given that the consumption of alcohol by American Indians is (1) against federal law; (2) somehow intrusive and dissonant to native cultures; (3) in some undefined way, physiologically more damaging for them than it is for Anglos or Blacks.

After the American Revolution, the liquor trade spread farther west. Wherever traders went, alcohol followed. Federal officials became alarmed at the continuing prospect of Indian drinking, so they enacted the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1802, which granted the president the authority to halt the sale of alcohol to Indians.

Although various federal and state officials, including Thomas Jefferson, wanted to stop the flow of alcohol into Indian country, they were unable to end the business. As in the colonial period, the economics of the trade proved overwhelming to government officials.

Since the profits to be made on alcohol were often greater than those that could be made on other commodities, especially since traders watered down their alcohol so they had more to sell, traders were willing to face any legal risks to sustain the commerce. Missionaries, too, often failed in their efforts to stop drinking in indigenous communities.

Each time a barrel of alcohol passed into the hands of another trader, he usually cut it with water to make it go farther. It wasn’t uncommon for alcohol to be cut with 3 to 4 times as much water as alcohol. When the drink got watered down to the point it would be too noticable, traders would add hot peppers to the mix to make it appear more potent. This is where the term “firewater” originated.

The 1933 appeal of prohibition did not apply to native americans. They continued under prohibition laws until 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower repealed the Indian prohibition laws country-wide. Indian reservations, however, remained dry unless they opted to permit the possession and sale of alcohol on the reservation.

Many reservations remain “dry” today. However, most frequently, tribal police do not enforce the alcohol law in areas where Anglo federal employees reside, or unless the drinker is causing a disturbance or has committed other crimes.

To demonstrate this, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is one of the “dry” reservations. White Clay, Nebraska, is just across the state line, one mile outside of the reservation boundary. This tiny unincorporated town has a population of 14, four beer stores, and sells over FOUR MILLION DOLLARS worth of beer every year. Most of their customers come from the nearby reservation.

Presently, all reservations in Arizona and New Mexico are dry except for the Fort Apache reservation. The Papagos have local options for each reservation district, and the Mescaleros Apaches allow alcohol on their reservation only at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, which is tribally owned.

The ‘drunken Indian’ stereotype

Ever since the seventeenth century, observers of Indian alcohol use have suggested that something about the indigenous peoples of the Americas made them particularly susceptible to alcohol abuse. Some have claimed that their problems stem from a genetic trait that makes them more likely to become alcoholics.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there was no evidence that Native Americans possess any greater genetic predisposition to alcoholism than the general population. Alcohol, however, continued to take a devastating toll in Indian country, a tragic legacy of the European colonization of the Western Hemisphere.

The enduring stereotype of the “drunken Indian” suggests a common belief that Indians have suffered more than others from liquor. It seems somewhat biased to be concerned solely with the ravages of alcohol among the Indians while ignoring the extent of the problem in the general population. To do so gives the impression that Indians are qualitatively different from other Americans, requiring a different set of ethical standards.

The idea that the American Indian has some racial trait that makes him unable to hold his liquor goes back about 200 years. At one time, the same was thought of the Irish immigrants in this country. Any drinking behavior offensive to the sensibilities of the dominant social stratum was attributed to inherent racial characteristics.

Today, differences in drinking styles are thought to be determined by cultural and not physiological factors. While there has been some research which suggests that Orientals and, perhaps, Indians, metabolize alcohol more slowly than whites, the differences are not sufficient to account for the great variability in drinking styles observed in these and various white populations.

Because there is great individual variation in rates of alcohol metabolizing within any population, making a blanket decision about Indians forbids alcohol to those Indians who metabolize at the average Anglo rate while permitting it to Anglos who metabolize at the Oriental or Indian average rate.

A common misconception is that all indians living on reservations are alcoholics. Those living on reservations actually drink less frequently than Native Americans living in off–reservation towns, but reservation dwellers who do drink may engage in binge drinking (drinking five or more drinks per day) more frequently and consume more alcohol per occasion when they do drink.

Another misconception is that all native americans drink because of lack of education, the abundance of poverty on most indian reservations, and the hopelessness of their lives. In fact, national statistics on alcohol consumption prove the more educated people are in the US (of all races), and the more financially stable they are, the more likely they are to drink. Lack of finances for other necessities of life makes the problem more apparent with the poor, because poor people do not have the resources to compensate for the money spent on alcohol, and can’t hide their addictions as easily as do their well-to-do counterparts.

Related Links on this site:

Alcohol prohibition timeline

It was only 80 years ago that native americans got the right to vote

Melungeon Overview

Stopping the Alcohol epedemic

Tenskwatawa: The Open Door / Shawnee Prophet

Wovoka’s Ghost Dance Vision

Overview of the Pine Ridge Reservation

External Links:

Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma Alcohol Regulations

Bay Mills Indian Community Laws and Codes – Alcoholic Beverages

Blackfeet Tribal Code – Ordinance No. 95

Colville Tribal Law and Order Code – Liquor Control

Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians Tribal Code – Liquor Control

Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Code – Alcohol

Grand Ronde Tribal Codes – Liquor Ordinance

Mashantucket Tribal Code Volume I – Mashantucket Pequot Tribe Liquor Control Code

Nisqually Tribal Code – Liquor

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon: Tribal Code and Government Operations – Liquor Control Ordinance

Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of the Lake Traverse Reservation Code of Law – Liquor Control Law

Skokomish Indians Tribal Code – Commerce

Susanville Indian Rancheria Ordinances – Liquor Ordinance

Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, Tribal Code – Liquor Ordinance

Yavapai Apache Nation of Fort McDowell Law and Order Code – Alcoholic Beverages

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.A.D.)

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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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