How Alcohol Is Killing My People (and Yours)
ISBN: 978-0-88977-437-7
Year: 2016
Pages: 180
Binding: Paperback

A passionate call to action, Firewater examines alcohol—its history, the myths surrounding it, and its devastating impact on Indigenous people. 

Drawing on his years of experience as a Crown Prosecutor in Treaty 6 territory, Harold Johnson challenges readers to change the story we tell ourselves about the drink that goes by many names—booze, hooch, spirits, sauce, and the evocative “firewater.” Confronting the harmful stereotype of the “lazy, drunken Indian,” and rejecting medical, social, and psychological explanations of the roots of alcoholism, Johnson cries out for solutions, not diagnoses, and shows how alcoholism continues to kill so many. Provocative, irreverent, and keenly aware of the power of stories, Firewater calls for people to make decisions about their communities and their lives on their own terms.



Map of Treaty 6

Preface: The Author’s First Words to His Readers



Wîsahkicâhk’s Lost Stories

Part II: How Alcohol is Killing My People

1        So the Story Goes

2        Who Am I to Speak?

3        The Drunken Indian Story

4        A Little Bit More History to Help Put It in Perspective

5        A Time before Alcohol Killed Our People

6        Going to the Graveyard

7        The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Supreme Court

8        Four Models

9        The Trickster in the Story

10    Being Frank: Exposing the Problem

11    Costs of the Alcohol Story

12    Employment

13    The Story We Tell Ourselves

14    The Story kiciwamanawak Tell Themselves

15    Addictions

16    The Land

17    It’s All Only a Story

18    Banning Alcohol

19    Treatment

20    Leadership

21    The Storyteller

22    Healing

23    Community

24    The Sober House and the Sober Community



A Letter from Tracey Lindberg

A Letter from Richard Van Camp


Wîsahkicâhk Returns to Find out He Is Story


Appendix. Treaty 6 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Plain and Wood Cree Indians and Other Tribes of Indians


Glossary of Cree Words

Sources and Further Reading



Harold Johnson

Harold Johnson worked as a miner and logger across northern and western Canada, before quitting the mines to pursue a bachelor's degree in law from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. He now works as a Crown Prosecutor in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. He lives with his wife Joan at the northern end of Montreal Lake, where they continue the traditions of trapping and commercial fishing common to Johnson's Cree background. He is the author of Corvus, a novel.
"Johnson lays out an alternative narrative from that of the 'lazy drunken Indian' in order to clear the way to a different conclusion and find and fashion a home-grown fix to a problem that threatens to destroy Indigenous communities. Johnson's suggestions for necessary ways of healing are welcome and tragically overdue. And his suggestion for an alternative narrative is not one of hopelessness. The book should be a bible in the fight for survival and recovery, for a better life for coming generations, and it should somehow be made available to band councils and urban community and friendship centres."
Morgan O'Neil, First Nations Drum
Early on in his new book, Harold Johnson strikes an apologetic tone. He knows the theme of his book--alcohol use among aboriginals--will court controversy.

But he cannot stay silent any longer.

"I'm about to drag this filthy, stinking subject out into the light," he writes. "It is my hope that the light kills it."
Douglas Quan, National Post
Johnson says he isn't bringing all the solutions to the table--he thinks Indigenous communities have the answers, if only the conversation gets rolling.

"I firmly believe the solution is talking about it."
CBC The Current, Interview
"This is an extraordinary memoir by a Cree writer who understands the damage alcohol does when used to kill the pain caused by white Canadians stealing and torturing Indigenous children throughout this nation's history. I know many white alcoholics but it's always 'the drunk Indian.' Why? Firewater is a great book; it burns in the hand."
Heather Mallick , Toronto Star
"[T]his Crown prosecutor, author, and former miner and logger, who has prematurely buried too many friends and relatives due to alcohol-related deaths, refuses to back away from the difficult challenge of addressing the root causes of alcoholism in First Nations communities. He convincingly argues that reality and all of its constituent elements--borders, corporations, governments, race--are ultimately defined by stories, and that an intentional effort to change the tales First Nations people tell about themselves would clear a path forward where addiction treatment and law enforcement models have failed... Written in the style of a kitchen-table conversation, Johnson's personal anecdotes and perceptive analysis are a call to return to a traditional culture of sobriety."
Publishers Weekly, Review
The Creative Industries Transition Fund is made possible through funding that was provided to the Saskatchewan Arts Board by the Government of Saskatchewan through the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.