by Mike Raccoon Eyes Kinney,

As the chairperson for United Urban Warrior Society of Central California (U.U.W.S.), a National Native American organization devoted to more Human and Civil Rights for Native People, many people here in Richmond have asked me why U.U.W.S. had a Native American Walk for Sobriety on July 18 (photos in this story are from the event).

I share that for the past 550 years, over 120 million Native People have been killed and slaughtered by mass extermination and ethnic cleansing. We in Indian Country suffer from historic trauma, our unresolved grief of being victims of mass extermination. Alcohol has since then become an inter-generational drug for many Natives look to escape our Historic Trauma.

Alcohol abuse affects Native American populations in higher proportions than any other community in the United States. To raise awareness of this issue, on Saturday, July 18, U.U.W.S. and Richmond’s Native community hosted a walk at 11 am from the intersection of San Pablo Ave & MacDonald Ave down to Nichol Park. Over 60 sobriety walkers participated.

As the Lakota Holy Man John Fire Lame Deer has stated about Native People and alcoholism: “Alcoholism is a problem for us, and as long as all of this liquor is lying about, it won’t get better. I have often thought about the special effect liquor has on us Indians. In 200 hundred years, we still haven’t learned how to handle it. It’s just like the measles and other diseases the white man brought us. The illness was the same for them as for us, but we died from it.”

Many Native people, families and communities are now forming organizations to deal with the issues of alcoholism and alcohol abuse, such as ‘Walking the Good Red Road’ and ‘Wellbriety.’ The return to our traditional spiritual beliefs and values helps us to lead lives free of alcohol, and Native Sobriety walks are crucial in raising awareness surrounding the issues of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the Native communities.

Historically, Indian Country has always had social marches throughout the United States to bring awareness to mainstream society to better educate them about our conditions and how we were living both then and now. Native Sobriety Walks are a direct outgrowth of that.

Video: 2nd Annual Richmond Sobriety Walk

Native Americans have historically had extreme difficulty with the use of alcohol. Problems continue among contemporary Native Americans; 12 percent of the deaths among mainland and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related. A survey of death certificates over a four-year period showed that deaths among Indians due to alcohol are about four times as common as in the general US population and are often due to traffic collisions, liver disease, homicide, suicide, and falls.

Native American youth are far more likely to experiment with alcohol than other youth, with 80 percent reporting alcohol use. Low self-esteem is thought to be one cause. Active efforts are underway to build self-esteem among youth and to combat alcoholism among American Indians. So Native People Walking for Sobriety is one of the ways that the Native Community addresses the clear and present dangers of alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

The most important goal of the Native Walk for Sobriety is the ideas of self-empowerment, self-worth and self-esteem. For too long many Native communities and Nations had remained silent yet to speak out on the REAL problems and issues of why Native People drink. We in the Native Community know how important it is for we as Native People to set positive and spiritual examples to our high-risk teens and young adults.

The Native Sobriety Walk was organized by many Community leaders through out Richmond because of the issues surrounding alcohol abuse and alcohol abuse. City Council member Vinay Pimplé, was one of our Sobriety Walkers and he stated: ” Our kids are exposed to the glamorization of alcohol and no one talks to them about alcoholism. They are exposed to advertisements in the media about alcohol unaware of the dangers from drinking. This Walk was a positive image for our community see by the Sobriety Walkers being out there that day!”

Jerome Smith another Community leader of the Sobriety Walk shared: “There is no sobriety without doing it! A Sobriety Walk is doing it. It shows the value and importance of sobriety to the entire community.”

Kay Kay Kinney (Apache) another Community leader and U.U.W.S. member felt: “The Sobriety Walk was formed to bring about the much-needed awareness in the Native community. Alcoholism is a disease and a negative aspect in one’s life. There is nothing positive about drinking alcohol. It kills and is NOT a joke! The importance of the U.U.W.S.-Central California Native Walk for Sobriety is the awareness and support for all those fighting the disease!”

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