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Sitcom's "Drunken Indian" Joke Angers Tribes

Navajo Nation leaders say the joke on CBS' Mike & Molly makes light of a serious problem.

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Mike & Molly play a stereotype for laughs.
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By McCarton Ackerman

03/05/13

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A joke about "drunken Indians" in Arizona on popular CBS sitcom Mike & Molly has outraged tribal members in the state, who say the rampant alcoholism on American Indian reservations is no laughing matter. Arizona is home to 21 federally recognized American Indian tribes. Although booze is banned on most reservations, it can easily be bought at border towns, brought in by bootleggers or sneaked past authorities. Federal data shows that American Indians and Alaska Natives die at a higher rate from alcoholism than other Americans, and alcohol is a contributing factor in many violent crimes on reservations. Tribal members also say that alcoholism is linked to a long-standing cycle of poverty, hopelessness and a history of trauma within American Indian families. "You can see somebody who is drunk and tripping over themselves and it's easy to make fun of them," says Erny Zah, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. "But the disease itself isn't funny, the coming home late at night, possibly beating on family members, the absence of family members, the fear it instills in a lot of children."

CBS has yet to respond to demands for an apology from The Native American Journalists Association, who also urged screenwriters to work to overcome stereotypes. "To me, it's not funny making fun of a minority group," says NAJA President Rhonda LeValdo, "Are we supposed to be the entertainment for mainstream?" But Zah says an apology would be too little at this point, since the show has already perpetuated negative stereotypes and disregarded progress that tribes have made to address alcoholism. "I would hope the rest of the country would be educated enough to understand we are more than what that comment made us out to be," he says. "We have educated people who are in the highest parts of the government, science, everywhere within this country."

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