Liquor sales bylaw better late than never for natives

When it comes to Albertans and alcohol there is one thing that comes to my mind

Dear Editor:

When it comes to Albertans and alcohol there is one thing that comes to my mind that seems to tell the story of the relationship that the average Albertan has with this product. I have noted throughout the ups and downs of the economy, Albertans will faithfully find some reason to drink. When the economy is bad it seems that Albertans drink out of depression that results from being unemployed. When the economy is good then Albertans drink because they have money to spend. All of which makes you wonder where the money to spend on alcohol comes from during the lean times?

Like the editor, I too have marvelled at the unrelenting growth in the number of outlets in Ponoka that you can buy booze from. Ponoka has gone from a town that used to be serviced by one Alberta Liquor Control Board retail outlet to a town that will soon have at least six retail outlets plus approximately seven restaurants that serve alcohol. All of which makes me wonder if the rate of growth in alcohol outlets hasn’t actually exceeded the rate of growth in the town’s population? If it has, which is something that I suspect is true, based upon the town’s official published population growth statics, then we are indeed in a sad situation.

As I look upon the ever-growing number of businesses that sell liquor it really makes me wonder if the members of our community think that alcohol consumption is the foundation of a sound economic plan? Is it possible we actually believe that we as a community can gamble and drink, sniff, smoke or inject ourselves to social stability and economic prosperity?

Here we live in a town that failed to be able to support three grocery stores where you could buy the necessities needed to sustain life but amazingly enough the same town can support more than 13 businesses that sell a non-nutritional liquid that is the number 1 substance abuse product in our nation.

As a young child, I was raised in a community where liquor outlets of all kinds were more plentiful than grocery stores. These retail outlets usually occupy the most prized of retail locations, the corner lot. I can attest to the fact the easy availability of alcohol was of no benefit to the community. Our community suffered heavily in terms of such social ills as: violent crime, family breakdown, lack of quality school performance on the part of the youth, family violence, underage pregnancy and sexual abuse.

In his commentary, the editor asked the question, what right does the town council have to regulate the ability of its residents to have access to alcoholic beverages? I for one think that the town council has every right to act in the broader interest of its residents who do not want to be confronted by inebriated people, as happened to me this summer, as they go about their lives.

I would respond to that question by saying that the town council has correctly come to realize, maybe too late, that the easy availability of alcohol and drugs is not conducive to Ponoka being a safe community. I say that the realization is too late because the town has already approved the operation of these businesses. But it is better late than never. That the town stands to receive those who no longer feel locked out of Wetaskiwin is not irrational. Just as a clamp down on prostitution ends up merely shifting the activity from one neighborhood to another, so it is likely to happen here as a result of what the Wetaskiwin council has enacted.

The editor brings up the issue of whether the ordinance changes by Ponoka and Wetaskiwin town councils are racially motivated. First of all I would like to say that the existence of a law and the predominant racial composition of those who seem to be the violators of the law does not mean that the law is racially motivated. The law is not targeting natives per se but it is instead targeting certain undesired activities that arise from consumption of the product. As an example we know that the diabetes rate among Native Americans is higher than the general population. Does this then make it racist for the government to devote more resources to education and prevention about diabetes to a population group that is literally eating itself to death? The truth about alcoholism and the native population is just as dark. According to a study in the United States that was conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “one out of 10 Native American deaths are alcohol related” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26439767/ns/health-addictions/t/native-american-deaths-alcohol-related/)

Hobbema itself is a dry reserve and it is dry for the very same reasons the councils of both Wetaskiwin and Ponoka are citing as their need to do something about their liberal-alcohol access policies. The sad thing is that even though the Hobbema reserve is officially dry it has not been able to stop widespread alcohol abuse by its residents. If the reserve is indeed dry then this means that all of the reserve’s alcohol is actually coming from the same nearby communities that are now trying to limit access to alcohol from off the reserve. Maybe the fault has been ours all along for not working in concert with native leaders to support their efforts to curb alcoholism in their community. Maybe these changes to the hours of operation for alcohol retail establishments will have some beneficial effect on the Hobbema community itself and on the lives of alcohol dependent natives, and non-natives living in Ponoka. In a way you could see this as the white communities finally co-operating with Hobbema on this critical issue.

In the end, I believe that it is better to be proactive rather than to just sit back and wait for things to happen. Liquor store owners are not willing to police themselves and those who consume their product are obviously too weak to do anything about their own behaviour.

Ironically the truth is that those reduced retail hours may present the only opportunity for sobriety, however brief, that some may have that day.

Julian Ross Hudson

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