By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I am a student of government. I hate politics, but I gravitate to discussion of public issues, and one leads to the other.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners recently held a public hearing to discuss what is commonly known as the “brunch bill”. At the core of the bill, and the discussion, is language that would allow alcohol sales beginning at 10am on Sundays.
Current law in Jackson County is that retail sales of alcohol in restaurant establishments must wait until noon on Sundays. Any municipality may vote on the law change and, even though Sylva is a town in Jackson County, it is an incorporated municipality and was able to vote to approve the change earlier and has had brunch alcohol sales for roughly six months.
If you pick up a copy of the The Sylva Herald or Smoky Mountain News, you will find photos of a few of the many county residents who lambasted the Board of Commissioners for even considering the move to 10am alcohol sales. Both publications wrote excellent stories on the meeting. Many opponents were preachers of local churches and others were members of their congregations. The theme of the meeting was condemnation of alcohol with a touch of chastisement of the Commissioners for considering “such a sinful thing”.
There were many sincere and passionate people who stood before the podium at the meeting. Young and old spoke of lost loved ones, many of whom were the victims of alcohol or drug addiction, or were injured or killed by an impaired driver. In all cases, the culprit was alcohol. They would invariably say that alcohol did this or that. When the preachers would get up to speak, the criticism was not of those who drank, but of the alcohol itself, giving it personality and form, “the demon alcohol”.
Alcohol is a thing, just like a pill, or gun, or shovel, or…well, you get the idea. The definition of an inanimate object is “a thing that is not alive, such as a rock, a book, a chair; not endowed with life or spirit, lacking consciousness or power of motion”. In other words, without a person or animal to use it, an inanimate object cannot do a thing. It lacks power of motion and is incapable of the will to do anything.
Yet, for whatever reason, we want to talk about the “bad acts” of alcohol and drugs. Maybe we don’t want to blame our loved ones, or hold people accountable for their actions, so we pick the thing instead of the person who has control of it, or choses to let it have control over them. It isn’t until we talk about moderation of use that the abuser starts to get some heat. Moderate or controlled use of alcohol, or marijuana, or even opiate-based drugs will not lead to the negative outcomes that we are against. It is the misuse and abuse of these consumables that cause addiction, bad behavior, and death.
If we are going to have discussions about the use and/or abuse of alcohol, whether on the Boundary or with our near neighbors in the counties that surround us, we need to talk frankly and candidly about the reasons that people abuse alcohol. Saying that there is no good in alcohol, or drugs for that matter, is giving inanimate objects attributes that they cannot possess. They are neither good nor bad. Has alcohol been used for bad purposes? Absolutely. Alcohol in excess causes mental impairment, which can lead to negative outcomes, like divorce, injury, and death.
Has alcohol been used for good purposes? Absolutely. Alcohol in moderate and controlled consumption has beneficial effects and has been used in medicines for hundreds of years. The same holds true for marijuana, opiates, and all other inanimate objects. The common garden hoe, for example, is an implement that has been used for years to prepare soil for crops and ornamental plants (good stuff). Over the years, the hoe has also been used as a tool to dispatch animals and, in some cases, people (bad stuff).
Generally, we love and covet our independence. Sovereignty among our people is a paramount issue. We, as a Tribe, want to be free from the control of anyone or anything. So, somewhere between tribal pride and individuals, we have lost that sense of or desire to be independent. We choose to live in dependence of things that will take the responsibility of independence from us. It is not the thing we use that we must fear, it is the lack of pride and self-control we must overcome.
In political debate, reality is what we make it, and we tend to make it to our advantage. In truth, no one does the right thing 100 percent of the time; and no one does the wrong thing 100 percent of the time. But, if you listen, or read, the words of most politicians or special interests, you hear the same all good or all bad message about individuals that you hear about alcohol, drugs, and other controversial items and ideas. One side feels that if it expresses a positive about its opponent, that it might give the opponent some sort of advantage or win. It is easier to blame someone or something else instead of taking ownership of the issue and finding solutions.
The challenges of the issues we face will never be resolved if we discuss them in an environment of half-truths and political agendas. We need to find ways to openly and honestly discuss what is best for the people, all the people of the Qualla Boundary. If we are to survive as a Tribe, we must regain that legacy of unity, accountability, and independence our ancestral elders possessed.