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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A sobriety movement among the Shuswap Indians of Alkali Lake Furniss, Elizabeth


Twenty years ago the Shuswap Indian community of Alkali Lake was like many other reserve communities in the northern Interior of British Columbia, with life characterized by high levels of drinking, violence, suicide, accidental death, and child abuse and neglect. In 1973 this pattern of life was challenged by the newly-elected Band chief and his wife. Working as a team, and by drawing upon the powers of the Band Office and applying confrontational tactics, the two initiated an anti-alcohol campaign in the community. For three years the chief and his wife persisted, despite extreme hostility and occasional threats against their lives. In 1976 their efforts began to achieve success. By 1981 most adults on the reserve had become committed to a sober lifestyle, and by 1985 the reserve was essentially "dry". This thesis traces the development of the recent events at Alkali Lake. To refer to these events the term "Sobriety movement" has been used. The movement is analyzed largely from a political processual point of view, with attention paid not to the underlying sources of "deprivation" or "stress" that may have generated the movement, but to the strategies and tactics utilized by the movement leaders to promote their cause. In this manner the resource mobilization approach to the study of social movements provides an analytical framework for this study. Several factors are identified as key ingredients in the success of the Sobriety movement. First, the Band chief and his wife were able to use effectively the powers of the Band Office to impose economic sanctions on drinkers. Second, as community leaders they were able to solicit the aid of powerful outside agencies, namely the R.C.M.P. and the Ministry of Human Resources, to support them in their efforts. Third, the personal resources of the two leaders - their courage, strength and determination -were crucial to the movement's survival during its early years. The success of the Sobriety movement can not be understood simply by looking at the leaders' actions. The social and cultural context within which they operated must also be considered. Three underlying and fundamentally important factors are identified: the pre-existence of a strong sense of community within the Alkali Lake village, the inherent readiness of the Alkali Lake people for new leadership and social change, and the use by the Band chief of a leadership tradition that permitted the application of strict punishment as a means of social control.

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