WASHINGTON — Alcoholism is destroying the Navajo Nation and the situation is a "national disgrace," New Mexico's Alcohol Beverage Control director said Friday.
Abe Rodriquez told a congressional panel that when he took over his job 19 months ago, he began looking at the problems centered around Gallup, Farmington and Shiprock--the largest communities where Navajos can buy liquor. Sales are prohibited on the 25,000-square-mile Navajo reservation, the nation's largest, that includes portions of Arizona and Utah.
"I found, if not a national disaster, for sure a national disgrace," he told a House subcommittee on health and the environment. "The Indian population there has been taken over by alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
"I found that on a 13-mile stretch of road in just six months of 1983, there were 43 fatalities--97% of them Navajo," he said.
No. 1 in Alcohol Deaths
"In Gallup, a city of 18,000, there were 40,000 protective custody actions (the holding of intoxicated people) for 12 hours," he said. "The Gallup area is No. 1 among counties with alcohol abuse and alcohol-related deaths."
Rodriguez said liquor sales are now banned on Sunday in the counties where Gallup and Farmington are located, but Indians "line up at the stores on Sunday to buy Listerine, vanilla extract, shaving lotion--anything with alcohol in it."
He said there are numerous alcohol-related accidents, abnormally high death rates for alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver among the 135,000 Navajos and "family life is at an all-time low in the Navajo Nation."
"But the Navajo Nation cannot do it alone," Rodriguez said.