Alcohol in Iroquois Culture and Religion
Prior to the arrival of the whites, Native Americans experienced little to no contact with alcohol, or “firewater.” The main introduction of alcohol to Native Americans came through the fur trade. Quickly upon its initiation to Native Americans, alcohol had various social, economic, and political ramifications. [note] To form new relations with Native Americans and to continue existing ones, the consistent distribution of alcohol was established.
Early French Jesuits linked alcohol to the destruction of the North American Indian, mainly because alcohol hindered their ability to converge the Native Americans. [anthropologica] Liquor was blamed for the violence and disorder among tribes however this violence was common even before alcohol due to the importance of dreams. Dreams are vital in Iroquois culture and religion and there was a certain emphasis on the interpretation of such dreams. Since these dreams represented the desires of the soul, acts that take place in a dream or vision are regarded as sacred and must be carried out in reality, usually without consideration of its moral consequences.
With alcohol, dream-like states and moments of bliss are achieved. Although there is concrete evidence lacking, it is common to believe that seventeenth century Iroquois used alcohol as a shortcut to visions and dreams. [note—disorderly] Through intoxication, Iroquois would achieve an out of body experience. Unlike the Jesuits, who spent much time observing and interacting with the Iroquois, the Iroquois did not regard the temporary loss of conscience as an act of impiety. By getting outside the normal human physical order they would get inside the spiritual order and ultimately more in touch with reality. [note-RES] The Jesuits observed that the Iroquois did not drink for taste but rather to get extremely drunk. Although horrible atrocities were the outcome of drunkenness, they were often excused due to the fact that intoxication was present and such as the acts of a dreamer were viewed as holy, so too were those actions of the drunk. Ultimately, “the white man provided the means, liquor, with which the Indian could murder those who had fallen under the white man’s influence. Furthermore, no guilt or blame was attached since it was the liquor that had control over the person.” [anthro-52]
It was noted that drinking parties lasted until the supply of alcohol disappeared, which could mean days or even weeks. Although alcohol was relatively new, this act of gluttony was not, as Native Americans were known to finish all of their food in one sitting. [maybe] Alcohol was also used to seduce, but pre-marital sex was not new among the Iroquois. Realistically, the “only new action associated with liquor was the actual search for alcohol.” [anthro] This however, led to more contact with and dependency on whites, loss of goods, and neglect of family and village.
Many people, including some Iroquois, believed alcohol...