Closure of bar helps break negative cycle

The Boxcar Bar, located just ten miles south of Leupp, has been ordered to close its doors for good.

But the demise of the bar is not only the end of a 20-year business enterprise, it is also one more step toward breaking the cycle of alcohol abuse among Native Americans. The bar, located so close to the reservations, clearly targeted that specific clientele, and, since it is no secret to anyone that alcoholism is a serious problem among Native Americans (particularly on reservations, where alcohol is banned), the business was nothing short of exploitative.

The Boxcar Bar was never intended to be a place for social gatherings, like so many other bars in other locations. For people coming from Leupp or Birdsprings, or for those coming off the mesas, the boxcar bar was simply much closer than Flagstaff for the purchase of alcohol. Many cited alcohol-related accidents involving people who had purchased liquor at the bar. Others in the surrounding community said that liquor was sold to those who were underage, or who were already intoxicated. Zoning and building violations posed public health and safety risks. Exploitation for a profit has never been a pretty picture.

But what is even more frightening, perhaps, is how an establishment like that plays into a larger picture of alcohol abuse, where cultural invasion still plays out an ugly scene, where there is a loss of hope and a loss of heart. People are viewed as objects, people view themselves as victims

I am put in mind of a training held at Jeddito School last year, where teachers and staff were learning how to deal with the various behavior problems, including drug and alcohol abuse, with their students. Vincent De La Garza, from the Sobriety Training Institute, pointed out America’s prohibition policies reinforced “heavy drinking” among indigenous populations. Although “White America” had this unsuccessful policy in place for just 13 years, Indian Prohibition was in place for a whopping 121 years, from 1832-1953. And while the double standard caused resentment and defiance among Native peoples, those “years of illegality helped to foster abusive drinking styles.” With one eye open for the police, Native Americans began to practice “secretive, quick drinking.” Drinking habits are a learned behavior, says de la Garza—the cycle had begun. With places like Boxcar Bar, that cycle was continued.

With the closure of the bar, there is a tiny break in the cycle, where targeting Native Americans with alcohol will no longer take place. We can only hope that other border bars that target Native Americans will face a similar fate.

As for the illegality of alcohol on the reservation, that is likely to continue. But perhaps, given our history with prohibition policies, that, too, should be reconsidered.

— Janel States James


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