An expert in the field of alcoholism said Friday that he advocates the use of community programs with a cultural base to combat alcohol problems among American Indians.
E. Daniel Edwards, a member of the Yurok tribe of Northern California, spoke about Native American history and culture and its relationship to drinking patterns at a conference sponsored by Washburn University and held at Haskell Indian Junior College.
In an interview after the conference, Edwards, director of American Indian Social Work and Native American studies at the University of Utah, said community programs that stress culture and tradition have been successful in treating alcoholism.
Edward said using "cultural means to work with problems" for example, sweat lodges and Indian spirituality seems to be more meaningful for Native Americans coping with alcoholism. However, he said more conventional tactics such as church and Alcoholics Anonymous groups also are important.
"Anything that works," Edwards said. "Everybody must be involved, plus the culture."
Alcoholism has been identified as the leading health problem among Native Americans, he said.
Edwards, who recently completed a review of federally funded programs for Native Americans, said American Indians are beginning to "feel more hopeful" that change is possible. Success stories do exist, he said.
Part of the reason alcoholism is so prevalent among Native Americans, Edwards said, is that Native Americans held no rules or regulations about drinking when they were introduced to it. In information he prepared, Edwards said few Native Americans had knowledge of alcohol before Christopher Columbus' arrival.
"It's not a part of our culture," Edwards explained.
He said many Native Americans became "instantly addicted" to alcohol. It served as a rite of passage for some, he added.
Edwards said he didn't believe alcohol was more prevalent among one tribe or region than another, but he said some tribes may have better treatment programs.
Edwards said community projects "have great potential for success."
"As successful programs are implemented, enthusiasm will build to allow for further risk-taking on behalf of American Indian community programs," he said.