An Inuit youth pulls an infant on a sled along a snow-covered street in Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories on April 3, 1974. The round building looming in the background is a Catholic church. (AP Photo)
On June 24, 1972, three boys decided to leave their residential school in Canada’s Northwest Territories and walk from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk (“Tuk”), in a bid to avoid punishment for stealing a pack of cigarettes from their dorm supervisor. Without a highway connecting Inuvik to Tuk, the boys had no idea they were undertaking an impossible journey of 90 miles over boggy tundra. At Granta, Nadim Roberts tells the story of Dennis, Jack, and Bernard — just one example of the horrific toll residential schools have exacted on Inuits, the Inuit community, and their traditional ways of life.
From the pond, the boys walked in the direction of the highest hill, where they could see power lines unspooling to the north-east. The 69,000-volt transmission lines had been strung the previous month. ‘These lines go all the way to Tuk,’ Dennis told his friends. He and Bernard were from Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. If they followed the power lines, they’d be home in a few hours, Dennis said. School would be over soon anyway, and if they left now, they could avoid getting in trouble.
Residential schools had existed in Canada since 1831, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that a significant number of them operated in the north. These government-sponsored religious schools were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture by ripping them away from their families and communities. When Western European colonization and evangelization finally arrived in the Arctic, what had been a relatively unscathed Inuit culture began to change rapidly. Bernard’s biological parents had been part of the first generation of Inuit that passed through these schools. It was in such an institution that they first met and fell in love.
Before 1955, fewer than 15 per cent of school-aged Inuit were enrolled in residential schools. Most children still lived on the land with their families, learning traditional skills and knowledge. Rather than teaching students how to hunt, skin game, and build igloos and kayaks, residential schools taught a curriculum used for white children in Alberta.
By 1964, more than 75 per cent of Inuit children attended residential schools. Their values, language and customs were supplanted overnight by a culture that saw itself as benevolent and superior, and saw the Inuit as primitive beings in need of sophistication. The young Inuit who went through the residential school system experienced an assault on their traditional identities that had shattering consequences: they are often referred to as the ‘lost generation’.
It begins at an outdoor café while you’re working for a month in central Mexico. From one table away, you zero in on his brown forearm, the two black cuffs tattooed around it. You want to touch those cuffs, encircle his arm with your hands. Soon you’ll learn the word esposas, which means both “handcuffs” and “wives,” but today you know only polite Spanish, please-and-thank-you Spanish. You smile at him until he approaches. When he asks if you have a boyfriend, you start to cry and can’t stop. You want to explain something to him — that you loved someone the way a dog loves her owner — but the only available language is snot. He holds a cocktail napkin to your nose. “Blow,” he says. For a second, you think he’s serious. Then you laugh so hard you feel something shift, the way the sky shifts from blue to pink.
His socks never match. His clothes and his dog are splattered with paint. His mother embroiders designs on his guayaberas and does his laundry. At night, he crashes wherever he is — on a porch, on a couch, by the lake in his pueblo. He takes you hiking to see the bursting white moon. He takes you to meet the shaman who can erase your pain with feathers. He takes you to see pyramids and an eagle carved into a mountain. He knows how to build a fire. He knows how to prepare a sweat lodge. He knows how to get people to buy him drinks. He knows how to wrap your hair around one hand and undress you with the other. During sex, he says all kinds of things you wish you understood. By the lake, you get so stoned together he stares at your face and asks if you’re Buddha.
“If I were Buddha, I couldn’t tell you,” you say.
“You have the face of Buddha.” He takes a drag, exhales a cloud, leans back on one elbow. “But don’t tell me. You are right. It is better not to tell me.”
The men full of strong drink have trodden in the fireplaces.
In spring of 1799, Handsome Lake, a Native American, joined members of his hunting party in making the long journey from western Pennsylvania to their home in New York. Handsome Lake was a member of the Seneca Nation, one of the six nations in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). He had once been renowned for his fighting skill. But the Iroquois had been stripped of almost all their lands after the American Revolution. Now fifty years old, Handsome Lake, too, was a shadow of what he had been. He would later say that heavy drinking had reduced him to “but yellow skin and dried bones.” After stopping in Pittsburgh to trade furs for several barrels of whiskey, the hunters lashed their canoes together and began to paddle up the Allegheny River. Only those in the outer canoes had to work. The rest of the party drank whiskey, yelling and singing “like demented people,” Handsome Lake said. The good times didn’t stop after they picked up their wives and children, who had accompanied them on the hunting trip and were waiting at a rendezvous. Everyone looked forward to being home in Cornplanter’s Town, named for its Seneca Leader.
The joy of their homecoming did not last long. There was enough whiskey to keep the men drunk for several weeks. Handsome Lake described the horror of that time:
Now that the party is home the men revel in strong drink and are very quarrelsome. Because of this the families become frightened and move away for safety. So from many places in the bushlands camp fires send up their smoke.
Now the drunken men run yelling through the village and there is no one there except the drunken men. Now they are beastlike and run about without clothing and all have weapons to injure those whom they meet.
Now there are no doors in the houses for they have all been kicked off. So, also, there are no fires in the village and have not been for many days. Now the men full of strong drink have trodden in the fireplaces. They alone track there and there are no fires and their footprints are in all the fireplaces.
Now the Dogs yelp and cry in all the houses for they are hungry.
Henry Simmons, one of three Quakers who had recently come to the village and had been contracted by the US War Department to “civilize” the Indians, said that some natives died. “One old Woman perrished out of doors in the night season with a bottle at her side,” he wrote. In a community meeting later, Simmons denounced “the great Evil of Strong Drink.” But the Indians did not need much persuading. After several days of deliberation, a council of Seneca elders announced that they were banning whiskey from the village. Read more…
By the time I was eight, I knew how to pour the contents of a beer can into a travel mug without foam. I used to joke that this is why I later became a kickass bartender and waitress in my college days, a side-benefit of being the daughter of an alcoholic.
My father was a high-functioning alcoholic. He never missed a day of work due to drinking, and gave it up every Lenten season as easily and selflessly as Jesus himself had given his body and his blood for the sins of every Catholic.
No one ever questioned why he kept going back to it, if he obviously had the willpower to stay dry for 40 days and 40 nights. It would only have been considered staying “dry” if he were officially an alcoholic trying to not drink, and that was not something he or anyone around him ever acknowledged. When he was alive, those words were never spoken. No one was in denial, I don’t think. They knew he was an alcoholic, but they didn’t see it as quite a problem, and he did his best not to make it one. They probably figured, why try to fix what wasn’t exactly broken?
My father was larger than life to me, even after I hit my adult height of 5’6’’ and we stood eye to eye. He was stocky and strong; he was built like a bulldog and walked with the cocky self-assurance that is the birthright of every Latino male. I’ve been told I walk like him, and when I hear these words, comparing my stride and carriage to that of my father’s, I beam with a ridiculous level of pride. His astrological sign was the lion, the Leo; king of the jungle and his world, just like his father, just like the man I married, though I’d sworn I would marry someone who didn’t remind me so much of my father. Although I married another Leo, my husband is a man who rarely drinks. Still, I’ve never judged my father for his drinking. My dad was the strongest man I have ever known; the craving for beer was just his achilles heel. Every superhero has a weakness.
“I’m telling you, listen to the album again.” I jam my finger into the bar top for emphasis.
“I don’t need to. It’s called Born in the USA. It’s about good, honest American people. You’re defiling a New Jersey hero.”
“It is about America. But the flag and blue jeans on the cover, the upbeat sound on the title track—it’s all ironic.”
“Here we go. It’s ironic.”
“It’s the definition of irony. Apparent surface meaning conveying the opposite of the actual underlying intent of the message. The album is about how people can’t catch a break, how hollow all the patriotic fanfare is.” My speech sounds less pompous in my head.
“This is just like your thing with Forrest Gump.”
I roll my eyes. Forrest Gump has become his latest culture war litmus test.Still, it’s good to see my brother. I’ve been teaching in Qatar for two years and he works odd hours as a cop at the Monmouth County Prison and so the nights when we can shoot the shit are rare. When we do, we eat a lot and drink a lot and tell a lot of stupid jokes and get a sick enjoyment out of fighting with each other. Read more…
If you live long enough, you create some regrets. Some people also make the difficult choices that alleviate their regrets. In Oregon Humanities magazine, Loretta Stinson writes about her moment of clarity, the night when she saw her fifteen-year relationship to an abusive alcoholic for what it was, and decided to walk out on him, her self-deception and her hopes, and to quit putting her own life on hold while he drank and injected his paychecks away. No more abuse. This is how she left him:
It’s best not to say too much and not to look at him for too long when he’s been drinking, kind of like running into a bear in the woods—you just back away slowly and try not to piss him off. The fights can start just by the way I look at him. He says it’s my face. My face shows too much of what I’m thinking no matter how little I say, but maybe that’s just what he needs to believe because he has to be mad at some-one and I happen to be available. Tonight I’m just watching him start to spin. I can see by the way he’s crashing around pissed off about nothing that it was never my face that pissed him off, never anything I did or didn’t do. He needs a reason to fight with me so he can leave to drink more, and that’s what he intends to do no matter what I do or don’t do. This idea is a revelation.
A former Major League Baseball No. 1 draft pick battles alcoholism. He’s now in jail, charged with three felonies:
In a sport where alcohol plays such a massive part in all social settings—on the same day Bush was arrested, Boston reliever Bobby Jenks, another player with alleged alcohol issues, was charged with a hit-and-run DUI as well—there was a great story in Bush’s continued sobriety, one to tell when he finally arrived in the big leagues. Like Josh Hamilton, another former top overall pick who struggled with addiction, Bush’s successes were redemptive, even inspiring to addicts who fight to stay clean for even a day or a week. During a two-hour conversation last spring, Bush detailed the goriest times of his life, the lowest of lows, sure that talking about them would prevent their recurrence.
‘If you want to hear the whole story, I can give it to you,’ he said. ‘It might take a while.’