What San Diego County reservations are doing about Indian alcohol

The slow massacre

Peggy McReynolds: “We have had children as young as six years old who drink."
  • Peggy McReynolds: “We have had children as young as six years old who drink."
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

There are many stories of how Indians started to drink. Here are a few of them:

"I can remember drinking at the age of ten, because it was there. I started drinking at home. My mother and my stepdad drank every day, although they were very hard workers. I would wait until they went to work. I knew where they hid their wine."

William and Margret Largo. There was no liquor on the old reservation, says Margaret Largo, but as soon as the tribe was moved to Viejas, in 1931, “there was plenty of it."

William and Margret Largo. There was no liquor on the old reservation, says Margaret Largo, but as soon as the tribe was moved to Viejas, in 1931, “there was plenty of it."

"My grandfather and the elders were about the only sober people I saw in my life. All the women in my tribe, my mother included, were alcoholics. My father was a drunk. The day he died is the day I started drinking, because he was an alcoholic and proud of it."

“My mother drank excessively for many years before she had me: she probably drank during her pregnancy with me. I was breast fed and she drank at that time. So I feel I was born into it.”

"Indians on this [ViejasJ reservation, I would say, have a very negative attitude — about everything."

"Indians on this [ViejasJ reservation, I would say, have a very negative attitude — about everything."

The valley lies encircled by rolling hills and low, chaparral-covered mountains. Live oak and canyon live oak trees stand tall and dark across the pale green grass There are houses, less conspicuous and hardly more numerous than the scattered horses and cattle that graze on both sides of the road. It looks peaceful and sounds quiet; and if you’ve reached it driving east through the commercial glitter of Mission Valley, you might think it was paradise.

William Largo: “They trust me because I take them to the store, buy them a drink, then they feel free to talk."

William Largo: “They trust me because I take them to the store, buy them a drink, then they feel free to talk."

For the past Fifty years, its 1609 acres have been home for a group of American Indians who were displaced from Capitán Grande Reservation by the building of El Capitan Reservoir. Clustered near the center, around a tall empty flagpole, are a handful of nondescript wooden and stucco buildings, three quonset huts, the long, low, stucco tribal hall, and a large white frame house that used to be the ranch house of Baron Long, a Civil War drummer who once owned all this land. The older Indians, and Indians in other places, know the valley as Baron Long, while the younger ones have learned to call it Viejas. The Indians call themselves Kumeyaay but are more widely known as Diegueños, from their historical connection to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Far from the hurly-burly, just northeast of Alpine, Viejas has problems not unlike those at the other seventeen Indian reservations in San Diego County, and among Indians on and off reservations all across the United States. One of the greatest of these — some say the worst — is alcohol.

Viejas Reservation, with a resident population of only 230 Indians, is one of the most actively involved in attacking the problems of alcohol.

Viejas Reservation, with a resident population of only 230 Indians, is one of the most actively involved in attacking the problems of alcohol.

From their dining room window, William and Margaret Largo have a sweeping view of the valley. Margaret Largo is making tortillas, which she puts aside to talk, and then, as the talking goes on, she returns to them again. She is a short woman with gray hair that curls around her ears, a direct gaze, and a smile that makes her face crinkle and her eyebrows pucker. She is fifty-nine, and remembers very clearly when the valley was greener. The two wells on the reservation are drying up, she explains in her quiet manner.

Robert Carlon: “Other races can consume a shot of alcohol and get rid of it in forty to forty-five minutes. It takes the Indian two to three hours.”

Robert Carlon: “Other races can consume a shot of alcohol and get rid of it in forty to forty-five minutes. It takes the Indian two to three hours.”

As a young child she lived with her parents and grandparents on the old reservation, in an adobe house with a dirt floor. They carried water from the river, half a mile away, and strained it before they used it. Her grandmother told her about her mother, Margaret’s great-grandmother, being given a sack of coffee beans by the Spanish: not knowing what to do with the beans, she tried to eat them, didn't like the way they tasted, so they lay around for a month, until the Spanish gave her a coffee grinder and some sugar; they loved it after that, her grandmother said.

Ben Magante conducts a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on the Rincon Reservation, and recently organized a sobriety day there.

Ben Magante conducts a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on the Rincon Reservation, and recently organized a sobriety day there.

There was no liquor on the old reservation, says Margaret Largo, but as soon as the tribe was moved to Viejas, in 1931, “there was plenty of it — everywhere.” She started drinking when her first husband came back from the service. He couldn’t sleep unless he drank. Right away she liked the effects of alcohol: she felt high, had a lot of energy. She liked wine, drank it even when she was alone at home. She began in the morning and drank until late at night, but she always took care of the kids. At first she would drink for a few days and then quit for a while, but eventually she was drinking every day, up to two bottles of wine a day. She had to have a drink to function, to do anything.

Anthony Pico: "I’m really glad that our family’s sobering up because everybody in our family is alcoholic, all the kids — everybody.”

Anthony Pico: "I’m really glad that our family’s sobering up because everybody in our family is alcoholic, all the kids — everybody.”

“I would be shaking, but still I had to have that drink, as soon as I had a drink I felt fine. My daughters gave up throwing away or breaking the bottles, but they kept talking to me, telling me to stop. I knew I couldn't quit alone. I cut down — I wasn’t getting drunk anymore, but I had to drink just to calm my nerves. ” Finally, her daughters found a place for her to go, a detoxification center near Sharp Hospital. She spent three days there, and the following three months at an alcoholism treatment center in San Diego.

That was five years ago and since then she hasn’t had a drink, except one time at church, when she forgot — it was communion. She feels fortunate not to have any health problems because of her alcohol, and doesn’t think she’ll ever drink again. “I'm afraid of it, I don't want to be in that condition again. I hated myself. I didn’t think I was an alcoholic until later ... I feel guilty when I think about the past, how I was. The guilt started while I was still drinking, as I realized the problem I had. It makes me feel bad to remember that. ’ ’ The hardest part of giving it up? She looks across the table at her husband. Bill, and laughs gently. “Him. Because he was still drinking.’.’ She had to get up in the morning, cook breakfast, and catch a ride to work — and he was drinking all day while she was gone.

Bill Largo, her third husband, is younger than his wife, forty-six, but, as he says, “I look older than lam.’’ His hair is yellowish gray and he wears it long, caught in tails by rubber bands on either side of his face. He dresses in jeans and a T-shirt under a plaid flannel shirt, a red print bandanna tied across his forehead. Despite a withdrawn demeanor, he speaks easily, without much inflection but with a natural, slow eloquence and dry humor.

He was born on Campo Reservation, down on the Mexican border. He speaks of it as “still kind of primitive, with wagons, horses, kerosene lamps.’’ He can remember getting up at the crack of dawn, learning to hunt, riding in a wagon to the store and giving ration cards to get food. “These reservations down here,” he notes, “are like the white man’s — more modern homes, electricity, near the freeway.”

He didn't know his parents when he was young. “The courts took us away. I always blamed my father and never realized it was not his fault. He didn’t have much education. I never saw my mother until I was twelve, thirteen; never knew my father until a few years ago.’’ He stayed with an aunt when he wasn't away at boarding schools in Arizona, and, like many Indians, was exposed to alcohol at an early age. “My aunt bootlegged liquor. That was our bread and butter. I was more or less born and raised with alcohol, though I never experienced It until one time at a fiesta — I was maybe eight — I wanted to experience that feeling. About four of us took a big bottle of whiskey. When the first drink went down, it tasted terrible; after, it was pure joy. The next day I was so sick. After that I didn’t do any more until I came to live with my mother. Later, in the service, it was right where I wanted it. At El Toro — I was in the air wing, a jet engine mechanic — I would bring four or five bottles of bourbon home on the weekends. When I was transferred to Florida, it was different: the hillbillies reminded me of home, they lived in old shacks in the mountains. I had friends there who drank white lightning, moonshine. That was even better, I didn’t have to pay for it,” he says with a broad smile, then adds, “I thought it was going to kill me.

“I got out of the service in 1955. I drank every day then, was already getting out of control. I started drinking wine because I couldn’t afford to buy whiskey all the time. The hangover was different but the effects were still good. I was twenty-one, twenty-two. I went to college two years, met other people involved with alcohol at that time. I changed.”

The process of changing back was long, slow, and hard. “I used to go to jail for other people, take the rap, but no one sent me money in jail for cigarettes or anything. When I used to go to jail, I felt like a caged animal… A lot of people used to respect me, I didn’t have that anymore, I was a nobody, losing my own self-respect. I was diabetic, but that didn't stop me either. I knew what I was, I just didn’t want to admit it to myself and stop.”

His wife says, “I don’t think anyone here would have believed he would ever stop drinking. He was all over the place, and when he was drinking he was everybody’s friend. He was so generous when he was drunk, he gave away everything, but he always had a dime to call home and say, Come pick me up.” He drank, heavily, for two years after his wife stopped. She says, somewhat apologetically, “I had to help myself before I could help him.” Whenever he was invited to go drinking with friends, he went. A car would drive up, he would get in, she would try to stop him, and he would get out, go around the house, and get in the car again and take off — “and I’d go for days," he recalls. And now, “I know what it’s like. When I go out on the road in the morning and I see someone standing there, I know what he’s doing, he’s thinking how to get a drink — Who’s going to come by? or, Who can I go see now? I know, when I see someone throwing up on the road. My kids knew, when I came in the house and went straight to the bathroom, what I was doing.”

At last he went to the VA Hospital in La Jolla and entered their alcohol treatment program. They gave him a physical — he was sick with diabetes — but they didn’t have a bed for him right away. His stepson, Anthony Pico, who had been a patient there himself a few years before, drove him back and forth every day until they did have a bed for him. He spent a total of six or eight weeks there; there were daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, films on alcohol, speakers, and he got paid disability benefits. “I had my doubts when I came out of the hospital," he remembers. “It’s hard for an Indian to say no. I'd just say, ‘I can’t drink.’ ” Even now, three years later, “I can't say I quit completely because if later someone sees me drinking, they’ll make fun of me. I only say I stopped, not I quit.”

Many recovering alcoholics, Indian or non-Indian, will say the same things; I didn’t think I was an alcoholic; I had to help myself first; I didn't quit, I just stopped, I might drink again tomorrow, but I’m sober today.

When Bill Largo stopped drinking, he started helping other Indians to stop drinking. Every day he talks to other Indians about alcohol, on the phone, when they come to see him, or going to see them. “They trust me because I take them to the store, buy them a drink, then they feel free to talk, they’re not scared of me. The next time I see them, they’ll talk to me without that drink. If it’s my friends, they come shaking around, it’s hard to say I can't buy you one. I always tell them, eat first, you don’t need a drink until you eat.” His emphasis is on educating the young people about the problems of alcohol, trying to find other things for them to do, and encouraging them to cut down on their consumption. He doesn’t get paid fordoing it. “A lot of people ask me, "he says, “why I waste my time. Sometimes I wonder myself, but it’s because I care what happens to these little guys around here." The children. ‘Sooner or later I’m going to be old and they will be the board, the council, making the decisions. They are the ones who will decide whether to fence off the land. That’s what I tell people: They are your future.” He is concerned that “at powwows, ballgames, the little kids are gonna see people staggering, see their elders get in fights, beaten up and possibly killed. I’ve seen a lot of people get killed over a bottle of wine — all related to each other. I tell my girls that alcohol doesn’t care how old you are, whether you are blue, black, or pink, it will kill you in a minute. It’s hard to tell the kids,” he realizes, “they have to experience it for themselves to believe it. I tell my own kids, all right, go out, just make sure you have a few dimes.”

His wife admits, “I know my kids drink, they can't hide it from me, I smell it. I know all the signs. I used to brush my teeth, eat candy to try to hide it. But the girls do come to me, they talk over their problems, they are very open about it.” For most of those little kids, it may be only a matter of time before they start drinking themselves, getting drunk, getting into fights. According to Anthony Pico, the oldest of Margaret Largo’s eight children, “Maybe at fourteen, you start drinking sporadically, away from home with your peers; when you get around sixteen, it becomes more regular, and at about eighteen, they’re just full alcoholics. A person who's eighteen or nineteen is an alcoholic if they're in jail every now and then or causing problems at home, losing work time or being inhibited from going out to get a job. ... I’m really glad that our family’s sobering up because everybody in our family is alcoholic, all the kids — everybody.” Fourteen sounds young, but for some it starts much younger. Peggy McReynoIds, director of the Kumeyaay Tribal Council in El Cajon, which offers alcoholic counseling and emergency lodging in a rambling stucco house, reports that “we have had children as young as six years old who drink. I don't mean the child who sneaks a drink at home and that’s the end of it. I mean they actually need alcohol.” Burials, she adds, are the saddest occasions. “The youngest we buried with cirrhosis was thirty…We buried four in thirty days — from fourteen to seventeen years old. “

A startling consensus seems to exist among Indians about the circumstances in which they started to have drinking problems: “My relatives and friends were drinking.” “Everybody around here drinks.” “When I was growing up I couldn't find a sober Indian male; I could hardly find a sober Indian woman.” “I was programmed, set up to be an alcoholic.” “There are no families (on this reservation! that do not have problems with drinking.” “Growing up in this society, I can look back now and see that it would have happened no matter what.” “I honestly believe that because I was Indian and because of the textbooks in school, that I was supposed to drink.”

The well-known myth of the drunken Indian has it that the Indian is prone to develop a craving for “firewater” and is somehow inherently unable to consume it, that just one drink will make an Indian blind, staggering, out-of-control drunk. The historical background to the myth is that the white man introduced alcohol to the Indian, plied the Indian with liquor before negotiating unfair trades or inducing the Indian to sign over tribal lands, and that the Indian physical constitution has not had enough time to acquire a tolerance to alcohol. Indians themselves, while refuting one part of the myth by telling their own stories of being able to drink long after white men have stopped drinking, passed out, and come to again, nevertheless perpetuate the other part of the myth. “The Indian cannot consume alcohol,” says Robert Carlon, an Apache who is community alcohol educator for the Inter-Tribal Council of California’s Rural Alcohol Program in San Diego County. “Other races can consume a shot of alcohol and get rid of it in forty to forty-five minutes. It takes the Indian two to three hours.”

It is true that distilled spirits were unknown to almost all Indian tribes, but fermented drinks were very well known, so it was not drink that was introduced by the white man, but the phenomenon of drunkenness, for which the Indian had no cultural or social means of coping and no system for punishing any crimes committed while drunk. Thus, what is clinically known as “Indian drinking” developed among many tribes — binge drinking characterized by rapid intake of alcohol, loud talking, staggering gait. Thus, too, an attitude of permissiveness toward drinking and tolerance of drunken behavior became established that persists, in general, to this day. As Anthony Pico observes, “I think our attitude toward drunkenness is very casual. Our attitude toward prostitution is very negative, so you never see that happen; but towards drunkenness, it’s almost the opposite of negative. There is peer pressure to conform, to drink.” Guilt — which frequently accompanies non-Indian alcoholic drinking — appears to be relatively rare for Indian drinkers. Professed reasons for drinking tend to be positive — to celebrate, to feel good, to feel great — rather than negative — to forget, to escape, because my wife/husband/boss nags me. Nor is going to jail for drunken behavior necessarily perceived as something bad, though, as Bill Largo says, “They might be embarrassed if they’re arrested for indecent exposure — peeing on the road — they won’t say that, they’ll just say it was for being drunk.”

Federal Indian liquor laws, requested by concerned Indian leaders, were enacted in 1832 to protect Indians from exploitation through alcohol, making it illegal for them to possess liquor in any form, anyplace. After the 1933 repeal of general prohibition left only Indians unable to buy a drink legally, the laws began to seem racially discriminatory, and were repealed in 1953. Still, some reservations and also some states and local communities restrict or control the sale and distribution of liquor to Indians. (None of San Diego County’s Indian reservations prohibit the sale or consumption of alcohol, though informal restrictions exist at a few of them.) The effectiveness of such laws has always been disputable, because they have resulted in higher liquor prices for Indians, faster drinking to avoid being caught, and the increased temptation of forbidden fruit.

Ironically, future scientific research on Indian drinking may prove the myth true, after all. There is as yet no conclusive evidence, first, because there have been no good crosscultural studies of American Indian populations (studies thus far have focused on individual Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut populations) and second, because genetic research on alcoholism is itself a relatively new field, whose findings are not universally accepted. One proponent of genetic research is Dr. Marc Shuckit, UCSD professor of psychiatry at the VA Hospital in La Jolla, and a national authority on the genetics of alcoholism. He reports that ‘ ‘a number of laboratories in the world are looking at different aspects of genetic research and almost unanimously agree that genetic determination of alcoholism is highly probable.” He describes the best study to date, which found that children of alcoholics, adopted at birth by a new family, have a four-to-five-times higher risk of developing alcoholism than children of nonalcoholics, and that the additional factor of being brought up in an alcoholic environment did not raise them to any higher risk. Asked about the contoversiality of such research, he summarizes unequivocally, “I don’t know of anyone of any intelligence who could read the literature and say that there is no conclusive evidence. ”

Shuckit is equally direct about the limitations of the information available on Indian alcoholism.” Research on Indians is very primitive, and the amount of data is terrible.” Orientals, he reports, have very low rates of alcoholism, while it seems that American Indians and Eskimos have high rates, but whether this is all environmental rather than genetic no one knows because there is no research. (American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts are Oriental peoples, but American Indians have become far more hybridized and heterogeneous, while Eskimos and Aleuts remain more directly Oriental.) It is well established, Shuckit claims, that fifty percent of Orientals are missing an enzyme that metabolizes acetaldehyde, the first breakdown product formed when alcohol is metabolized; and that Orientals flush more often when drinking than non-Orientals. (Flushing is a physiological reaction similar to an allergic response — dilation of blood vessels, sweating, and sometimes heart palpitations.) Acetaldehyde is a highly toxic substance, causing headaches, difficulty in breathing, and potentially death, so an individual whose alcohol consumption causes an elevated blood acetaldehyde level would presumably be protected against alcoholism because the unpleasant effects would make that individual not want to drink again. What is controversial, Shuckit concedes, is whether these factors—Orientals’ low rates of alcoholism, their missing enzyme, and their flush syndrome—are tied together. “In general,” he states, “Indians probably flush when they drink. If Indians live in a society where everyone is drinking, and drinking from an early age, then a lot of them might drink through that flush, whereas Orientals — Japanese, for example, for whom comportment is important — would not drink through it. “Pressed to make a prediction, Shuckit readily says, “If you’re asking me to guess what better research would show, then I would guess that a higher percentage of Indians would be missing the enzyme that metabolizes acetaldehyde, and that the biological factor {protecting against alcoholism] could exist but be overridden by societal factors (i.e., the pattern of drinking frequently and heavily from an early age].”

There hasn't yet been enough money for better alcohol research, and there isn’t enough money to treat alcohol problems — among any segment of the population, which may be one reason that Bob Reynolds, director of San Diego County’s Department of Health Services’ alcohol program, talks willingly enough about Indian alcoholism but is reluctant to conclude that alcoholism is a particularly severe Indian problem. “Yes,” Reynolds says, “alcohol problems are major problems — for everybody. I don’t know, quite frankly, if the problem in Indian populations is that much more severe than in other disenfranchised populations.”

Reynolds is more straightforward on this point: ‘”We don’t adequately serve any population group. The problems of alcohol are rampant in this society. It’s like throwing a lifeline in a raging sea. We receive (from state and local sources] something like eighty-seven cents per person in San Diego County per year. For you to do your share, you have to drink eighty-seven gallons of wine in the next year. ’’ He is referring to the fact that the excise tax on wine is one cent per gallon. “If you really want to control alcohol problems in a society, you increase the excise tax. I think that alcohol tax is an appropriate funding source for alcohol programs. It’s basically a user's tax. Everybody thinks the excise tax on alcohol is high. The excise tax on wine was reduced in 1937 from two cents per gallon to one cent and it hasn't changed since.”

The big picture that Bob Reynolds seems to have in mind, that of the alarming toll that alcohol takes on people and property in this country, actually makes the statistics on American Indian drinking — such as the following, compiled a few years ago by the Department of Health. Education, and Welfare’s Indian Health Service and National Institute of Mental Health — even more, not less, shocking: Indian death rates directly due to alcohol are seven times higher than those of non-Indians; alcohol-related suicides and homicides occur twice as frequently among Indians; alcohol arrests are twelve times higher; and accidental deaths, most of them associated with excessive drinking, are also several times higher. Increasingly, individuals and tribal leaders in San Diego County — as around the country — are recognizing the problems caused by alcohol and attempting to deal with them. Considering the myriad dimensions of Indian alcoholism, the available resources seem pitifully inadequate.

As a group, San Diego Indians are typical of Indians nationwide in being disadvantaged educationally, in lacking job skills, in living marginally on a welfare check, and in not seeing very many other prospects on the horizon. The average education level is less than junior high. The average income for a family of six is under $5000 a year. At a time when nine or ten percent national unemployment sounds perilously high, Indian unemployment remains at a steady, staggering eighty to eighty-five percent — making it difficult in a sense even to speak of Indian alcoholism as a separate problem or to imagine its eradication. Where is the motivation, and what the means, to stop drinking?

About two-thirds of the estimated 15,000 Indians in San Diego County live in urban settings, but out in the county, there are only two Indian alcohol counselors for the eighteen widely scattered reservations and their surrounding rural areas. San Diego has more Indian reservations than any other county in the country, and approximately two-thirds of the landed Indians in California are in this county — but that amounts to only five or six thousand Indians, on 123,814 acres of Indian land. The Rural Alcohol Program, which is funded by a statewide Indian organization with its headquarters in Sacramento, has had a community alcohol educator in San Diego for the last eight years; since January of this year, Robert Carlon has been in that position, covering the southern and eastern portions of the county. In June, 1981, after a concerted appeal to the county board of supervisors, the Tribal Resource Development Corporation in Escondido (representing ten of the county’s eighteen reservations) began a contract with the county’s alcohol program to provide services in North County; Ben Magante, a Luiseño Indian from the Pauma Reservation, is that counselor.

Carlon’s Rural Alcohol Program sends between $25,000 and $30,000 to San Diego County per year; the county contract with Magante’s group, which is the only specialized contract of its kind that the county alcohol program funds, is for $35,000 a year, and is being renewed for a second year. According to Bob Reynolds of the county alcohol program, “We spend relatively more money per capita on this special population than we do any other special population. We were willing to support Tribal Development because they contacted us. There was a consensus of the Indian community for what needed to be done, everyone was willing to work together, and clearly we had to have some kind of specialized response to cultural variances that couldn't be provided through a neighborhood recovery center. ’* But twenty-five or thirty-five thousand dollars doesn’t go much beyond paying salary and the cost of driving a car around the vast distances that Magante and Carlon are responsible for.

Ben Magante is a short, rotund man with a broad smile and a relaxed, outgoing manner, who dresses in jeans, a brown leather vest, and a big black hat with a feather. He is himself a recovering alcoholic, and reflects candidly, “When I take an inventory of myself, all my problems were while under the influence of alcohol. I never got arrested when I was sober, I never started an argument or fought with anybody if I was sober. A lot of things I'm doing in the program today, I thought of while I was in jail. I thought, if there was something like…that, if there was someone who would just give the time or effort, it would help. There wasn’t anything. So I’m doing it now myself.” He conducts a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on the Rincon Reservation, and recently organized a sobriety day there, a fundraising barbecue with no alcohol allowed, to benefit his alcohol program. He also worries about getting burned out, about trying to do too much and endangering his own sobriety.

Robert Carlon is a tall, trim man who looks like the ex-Marine that he is, with an energetic, determined approach. He’s had a varied career, playing professional baseball, running a nightclub, still planning to complete his studies in oral surgery. He’s never been a heavy drinker, and he took this job, as he says, “because my people need me, and I needed a job.” Still relatively new on the job (he began in January of this year), Carlon has a long list of plans — a detoxification center, staffed by Indians, on a reservation is one — and much of his energy goes toward raising the necessary money and interest. Like Magante, a lot of his time is spent in court, testifying for his clients, who are usually in trouble when they call him. For example, he recently spoke in a probation hearing for Margaret Largo’s son Rocky Benjamin, to keep him from spending 270 days in state prison for failure to report to his probation officer. Projects such as improving the baseball diamond at Viejas, or getting a donation of lumber to turn into picnic tables, he views as important, both as alternatives to drinking on the reservations and as recreational facilities “so the young people won’t leave the reservation for the city — where all there is for them is drinking, drugs, and pinball."

One sobriety day or a few picnic tables may not sound like great advances in a war against alcoholism, but with a problem as endemic as Indian alcoholism seems to be, such small steps may be very significant for their symbolic value. It’s not clear that ten Ben Magantes or ten Robert Carlons would accomplish ten times as much, or work ten times faster. Nor is it clear that ten times $35,000 would provide something closer to a solution to the problem. No efforts that have been made in the dominant culture have been successful enough either.

In the county’s urban areas are a handful of urban Indian health and social service agencies, none of which is funded for alcohol services, and whatever counseling or treatment they can provide to alcoholics is minimal. The Kumeyaay Tribal Council’s Kumeyaay Center in El Cajon, which receives $65,000 a year from the county's department of human resources for social services, is the only one of these with residential facilities: six beds, three for men, three for women. Most of the residents have a drinking problem; the center also holds a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and offers twenty-four-hour counseling. Its director, Peggy Me Reynolds, says with conviction, “Indian people need a facility of their own. They respond so much better in their own environment with their own people. ” She herself is one-quarter Cherokee and comments ruefully, “As long as I do what they [other Indians] want, everything’s okay, but if I do something wrong, they say I’m ‘that white lady in the office.’”

The closest this county has to an Indian alcoholic facility is Indian Growth Center (commonly known by its former name, Indian Freedom Ranch), which was established ten years ago as a detoxification facility for Indians in the Campo area. The state and the county have been providing funds for its operation. It aroused internecine conflicts in the Indian community almost immediately, conflicts about whether all Indians or only local Indians should be served there. The end result is that there are essentially no Indians there. Lloyd Varney, manager since 1977, confirms that, although there have always been Indians on the board of directors, there are currently no Indians on the staff and only two of the twenty-four present residents are Indians, one from Arizona, the other from northern California. “[We] cannot seem to get Indians to stay here,” he says. “They stay for a while and go back to the reservation.” And, he offers, “Campo Indians don’t seem to want to get dry.”

Indian alcoholics can, of course, partake of nonspecifically Indian services, but those directly involved in treatment or counseling all agree that if anything about Indian alcoholism is clear, and despite any internal politics clouding the situation, not just preference but necessity recommends Indian services for Indians. One side of that is expressed by Robert Carlon when he says, “You’ve got to be an Indian before you can understand them, know their needs, their drives.” The other side is that one of the first things almost any Indian will tell you is how he distrusts the white man.

Anti-Indian prejudice has existed in all the places where Indians and whites have met. throughout the history of the white man in America, and continues to isolate Indians today from the dominant culture. For the twenty-or-so original bands of Indians in San Diego County, interaction with the white man began in 1769 when the Portola-Serra expedition brought Spanish Franciscan friars to the area, who called them all “Mission Indians” and exploited them as serf labor. The Spanish were followed by the Mexicans, who were followed by the Anglo-Americans, who valued the Indian least of all: killing an Indian was not a punishable crime for an Anglo, and the Indian was granted no civil or legal rights. After California became a state in 1850, various treaties were negotiated to grant land to the Indians, but none of the treaties was honored until 1875, when certain lands were set aside by executive order; most Indian lands in San Diego were allocated at this time.

Treatment of Indians in San Diego County was by no means the cruelest, and when the Indians who live here today talk about their distrust of the white man, they refer not just to their own specific experience but also to the plight of the Indian in general. Some of the things they say: “The white man has taken away the Indian's land and rights, so there is a psychological fear that the white man will control the Indian's destiny.”

“Indians have been tried, lied, surveyed, counted, and promised by the white man, so he has a show-me attitude.”

“I never met an honest white man yet and I'm thirty-two years old. I'm not looking, but I never met one.”

“Ever since I was growing up. I’ve heard about Columbus discovering America; how can someone discover a country where there are already people there?”

“The American Indian is one of the most persecuted races in the history of the world. Indians on this [ViejasJ reservation, I would say, have a very negative attitude — about everything. They always talk down, they don’t talk up. In my opinion, this comes from (the white man) trying to annihilate us, because at one time we were a very positive people, our oral history tells us we were a very loving people, kind, harmonious. But all these traumatic experiences of death and suffering, not just in one generation, but in several generations, and pretty soon you aren’t positive anymore, you get to the point where, here we are, very negative, and we don’t even know why.”

Many of the Indians who talk about alcohol as the major problem that faces them are the same Indians who say there is hope. Despite all the pressures — past or present, individual or cultural, physiological or psychological — that make Indians drink, it is possible for Indians to stop drinking. To reach that goal, for themselves and others like them. Indians are traveling along a number of different routes. For most, a major guidepost is first having an Indian role model to follow, and then trying themselves to become role models.

Anthony Pico, son of Margaret and stepson of Bill Largo, is a big, broad, hearty man of thirty-six whose black hair reaches nearly to his waist. He relates a long story of alcoholism with an amusing and hopeful end. “I drank a little before I went into the service. As soon as I got into the army I drank heavily, it was almost the expected kind of behavior. The euphoria for me was very intense, I just get way up there. I drank for about ten years before I realized I had a problem. It was a gradual process of realization. It was the end of a whole lot of incidents that were happening, going to jail so many times; I never went to jail sober. I kept on making promises that I was going to stop. I took Antabuse for a while but the desire to drink became so heavy, I just quit taking it. I was drinking every day, that was the priority in my life. After a while, after you get into alcohol, you don't get sick anymore unless you drink a week without stopping. I drank two weeks without stopping. You drink till you pass out and then you wake up and start drinking again and start the cycle all over again. Then you start getting sick and you drink to keep from getting sick. I was going to school full time and working full time. Finally I got to the point: If you don't stop drinking you're going to lose your job, you’re going to get kicked out of school, something’s gotta go. Well, the school and the job went and I kept drinking. Then I met a friend, we were in the service together, he had a similar experience with alcoholism. He came to see me one day ’cause he was watching Gomer Pyle and Gomer Pyle was looking up an old Korean buddy of his, so he started thinking about me and looked my number up in the phone book and called me. He started telling me about this program at the Veterans Hospital and he made it sound so good. ‘They give you respect,’ he said, ‘and pajamas, slippers, a housecoat. Not only that, they pay you to go there, disability.’ So I went there. It was great.”

Pico has been sober ever since, about five years, and says proudly, “Of all the things I've accomplished, that’s the greatest accomplishment because it was the hardest. I’ve never been happier, since I’ve been sober. I've come out of a dream world.” Looking back, he credits the example of other Indians, role models, for giving him the strength. “I don’t think I would ever have stopped drinking until I saw some Indians stop drinking first. About eight years ago, the Te Sam family, three brothers, alcoholics, they quit drinking. Another man, Albert, who since got killed by a woman who was drunk, came back through incredible odds and got sober. For some reason, living in a closed society the way we are, if you don’t see it happen, you don't think about it. At that time, I was still drinking, I didn’t even relate it to myself and say, He’s sober, it can be done, maybe I can do it. But I saw it.”

Collectively, Viejas Reservation, with a resident population of only 230 Indians, is one of the most actively involved in attacking the problems of alcohol. As Anthony Pico says, “Viejas’s interest in combating alcoholism is a lot of people: those three Te Sam brothers, the population becoming more educated about alcoholism, also Bill’s work with youth. Bill [Largo, his stepfather] has come the farthest of anyone I’ve known. A person that gets as bad as he was usually doesn’t come back. The positive influence that he's exerted in the short time that he’s been sober is almost incredible…Those people who have died because of drunkenness have also contributed. We’re going to turn this around. That vision is the only thing that keeps us going. We’re going to have a very vibrant and positive society, maybe in another generation, maybe two generations from now.”

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