Photo by Brian L. Brandt Photography

May 05, 2010

Photo by Brian L. Brandt Photography
Gyasi logoPublished widely in Native American newspapers and websites, Gyasi Ross has kindly volunteered to share his blogs here on Look for his writings, The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian, the first Wednesday of every month.

Homer Simpson is my hero

Well, "hero" might be a bit much -- but let's just say that there are certain things that I admire about Homer. Bald-headed or not, I can relate to him.

First off, I always appreciate a family man. Like me, he's not that smart. Still, he's smart enough to adore his wife, his kids and his dog. Now that's a man that knows his priorities! Plus, Homer always managed to keep a job. Now maybe his job skills are slightly inadequate; nonetheless, he always manages to stay employed.

And where I'm from, getting a job is ridiculously difficult. Keeping the job is even harder. Keeping that job is like trying to keep Dog the Bounty Hunter's wife out of spandex. I mean, I wouldn't try to keep her out of it -- she's a whole lot of woman!

But I digress. My point: Homer has a job. And he loves his family. Cool things.

Still, the thing that I admire most about Homer, believe it or not, is his beer-drinking ability. That is, Homer can come home, crack a Duff beer, and relax. Take the edge off the day, no big deal. He still loves his family after he drinks his beer, and he still gets up in the morning to do his job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

I always wished that I could do that. Seriously. I just think it's cool.

I learned to see alcohol in extremes

The truth is, however, that I never saw "Homerish" drinking as a child. So I never drank even when I wanted to.

See, I never saw people take care of their family after a long night of partying. Nobody ever got up to go to work either. Instead, I learned to see alcohol in extremes. It was: "winos drank and spiritual, religious people did not." Or maybe: "abusive, deadbeat dads drank and responsible, employed men did not." And although I knew that it wasn't that simple -- that a person being "bad" or "good" couldn't merely be a matter of whether a person drank alcohol or not -- that's what I saw.

The only time I saw people drunk or drinking was when they were completely incapacitated, vulnerable or violent. "Happy drunks" did not exist to me. "Passed out drunks" did.

I hated 'passed out drunks'

And I hated "passed out drunks." Except when my dad was in a belligerent mood and we waited, fearfully, for him to pass out. But most of the time dealing with a passed out drunk created a powerless feeling -- I hated trying to talk to my mom or dad when they were passed out.

The closest way I can think to describe trying to communicate with a parent who passed out is this: my cousins used to pin my arms down on the bed and tickle me viciously. Or alternatively my sadistic cousins would give me an "Indian burn" (why was it called that?) on my chest. And even though it didn't hurt that bad, physically, I still cried uncontrollably. In retrospect, I think the reason why I cried so much was not because of the pain, but because I had zero control of the situation. None. I tried my hardest to stop my older cousins from torturing me. I'd struggle, strain, and spit at them. But there was no point to my protests. No matter what I did, I could not change the outcome. No matter what I did, I got tickled until I peed my pants. Or Indian burned.

And that's the way I felt when my parents passed out, like my efforts were completely pointless. And I'd cry with frustration. I'd shake them and yell at them -- sometimes slap their faces. Try to wake them up so that they could take care of me, cook for me. I was 5 or 6 or 7 years old, and they were supposed to take care of me, right? Still, no matter what happened, they wouldn't wake up.

Many years ago when my parents still struggled mightily with alcohol, one of them passed out while driving. My quick-thinking (and strong!) middle sister had to literally move a wasted adult-- dead weight -- out from the driver's seat while the car was moving. The car was headed for a huge stack of wooden pallets at about 5 miles per hour, and it wasn't stopping. The car would've knocked over the pallets, and a bunch of them would have fallen on our car. I used to think that the pallets would have killed us -- that my sister literally saved our lives. I realize now that that's probably an exaggeration. Still, those pallets probably would've done considerable damage to the car and maybe to us, too.

Next: A mythology of blissful ignorance

My mom finally woke up and stopped drinking when my little brother was a baby and I was 14 or 15. She changed her lifestyle completely -- she stopped drinking and changed her priorities and began a new life. Some would say that she "found religion." I just knew that she changed her life (and ours!) for the better. And since my little brother was a baby when she stopped, he has no recollection of his wonderful mother or father partying and carrying on.

When they stopped drinking they made a commitment not to have alcohol around their children; alcohol was simply not allowed around the house anymore. And like any good Skin family, we tried to pretend that it didn't exist anyplace else in the world either. That fantasy worked out for a while, but distilleries and breweries didn't stop making alcohol simply because my family stopped drinking. Still, my family created a mythology of blissful ignorance about alcohol because it no longer affected our family.

In retrospect, I wonder if that was the healthiest approach to alcohol.

See, we went from an extreme to another extreme; from being completely immersed in alcoholic culture to alcohol being completely absent from our lives. There was no analysis of the actual substance -- alcohol -- other than to proclaim it "bad." There was no detail, nuance or subtlety as to why alcohol was "bad." No discussion. Therefore, we kids just continued to see extremes -- bad and good.

And at first, that was sufficient -- to merely tell us kids that we shouldn't drink. We saw the destruction and violence that alcohol caused earlier in life. We surely didn't want it to happen again.

But then, as I got older, I began to see friends with families whose parents drank wine with dinner. Yet, even though they drank, they laughed and talked civilly to each other. They treated each other with respect and didn't abuse each other-physically or otherwise. I thought to myself, "They're drinking! How can they do that? Not hurt or abandon each other?"

And I realized that not everyone who drank was a bad person

My friends -- or their parents -- also did not have the weird fascination with alcohol that I did. They didn't see alcohol as "bad" or "good." It was simply a tasty beverage, the way that I see Snapple Lemonade. Sure, sometimes they'd drink too much -- and they'd be sick in the morning as a consequence. But it wasn't evil.

Conversely, my nieces and nephews and my little brother grew up with no alcohol around. And they never asked my sisters or my mom when they had questions about alcohol, even though we know all teenagers have questions about alcohol. We didn't suspect anything when they didn't come to us to tell us that they started experimenting with alcohol. Because we were so much in our safe little alcohol-free world, my nieces and nephews and little brother didn't see us as a safe audience to ask those questions. They saw us as judgmental.

And that's a problem.

The problem went something like this: My family tried its best to pretend that alcohol did not exist, but it does exist. Teenagers -- Skin or not -- are always going to have some curiosity about alcohol, and they should. Yet, because of my family's judgmental nature toward alcohol -- as a family formerly affected by addiction -- we wouldn't allow reasonable questions to be asked about alcohol.

That seems like a recipe for disaster.

I see that problem multiplied by a thousand on "dry rezzes." Think about it -- why should an adult, able to make their own decisions in every other capacity, be told that they cannot purchase a particular product? That seems very protective of adults who are, theoretically, able to protect themselves. Some would argue that it seems insulting, maybe even pointless. For example, resourceful Skins -- as evidenced by border towns like Gallup (NM), White Clay (NE), and Hardin (MT) -- are going to find some liquor if they want to find some liquor. But now, with the "dry reservation" structure, those resourceful people are going to drive to get their liquor -- more drunks on the road -- and possibly acquire a certain fetish with liquor. After all, it seems like taboos with no explanation creates fetish and fascination.

Just like it did with my nieces and nephews and little brother.

This is obviously a huge discussion. Still, I wonder -- what are your thoughts on alcohol? Are we teaching our kids to think in extremes about alcohol? Are we literally killing our kids by teaching them that they have to make a decision amongst extremes -- complete sobriety or wasted wino? Do those extremes -- if they exist -- create a culture of shame and guilt that leads to more alcohol abuse?

What do you Skins think?

Gyasi "Fancy Skin" Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is "Oonikoomsika." He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his newest presentation, "Mother Lovers: Poetic (and Musical) Justice." E-mail him at

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