Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


The Impact of the Indian/Interdiction Classification

First-hand accounts and First Nations historical texts describe how the Indian/Interdiction classification was detrimental to First Nations communities across the province. As the historian Brian Maracle (1993: 44–45) writes:

The law didn’t stop or prevent Indians from drinking, but it did change the way they drank — for the worse. Since Indians were forbidden to buy liquor, they frequently resorted to drinking other far more dangerous intoxicants. More ominously, Indians also had to guzzle their beer, wine or liquor as quickly as possible to keep from being arrested.

A man from Sioux Lookout told the Ontario Legislature’s Select Committee on Indian Affairs that the source of Indian drinking behaviours was the differential treatment created by the classification system, arguing that “’Fire water’ has been coming in ever since” the First Nations prohibition was put in place, “and we are not able to stop it.”

Would [First Nations people] not feel better if they could go in the front door like men rather than creep like thieves to get liquor from bootleggers? They go to a bootlegger and pay $5 and $10 for home brew, poisonous stuff. A few drinks of it will make you crazy, but you have held the Indians down so that they have to do that (Ontario 1953: 521–22).

Prohibition on the reserves supported bootlegging and turned drinking into hide-and-seek contests, as many chiefs have pointed out. It thus intensified and distorted First Nations consumption and heightened cultural associations of alcoholic behaviour with Indians. This was especially true in the regional centres of Northern Ontario and for people who came there from smaller, remote communities. Once in these centres, First Nations people from remote reserves were also more likely to be classified as fitting the prototype. As an Indian of Kenora noted: “I have been placed in jail here in Kenora when I was sober. And I was jailed for one week. My charge was being drunk on the streets. I hadn’t had a drink” (Ontario 1953: 92).

It was, then, not only liquor that determined high-risk and related behaviours. “Indianness” also played a vital role: the classification system overrode the reality by collapsing any difference. In one case a judge explained that distinguishing between an Indian and a drunk required an expert eye:

As to his manner of walking we have only the last witness for the crown, who only knew [the “Indian”] for three months, and I don’t think he is in a position to judge. We do know, I think, that Indians — I have seen at Kamsack very often — are not particularly soldierly in their bearing. (Richards v. Cote [1962] 40 W.W.R. 340)

Even an informal apprehension of gait could be attached to the prototype and help smooth the convergence between category and reality. To this day in Northern Ontario remote small-town LCBO outlets located near reserves are flashpoints for racial tensions as Band members walk into town. Meanwhile bootleggers stock up on booze for resale to alcohol-free reserves further afield. More recently in some Northern communities, bootlegging has been displaced by the resale trade in prescription drugs.

The conjoining of the “Indian” and “drunkard” prototypes was so strong that supposed racial aspects of being Indian attached themselves to non-Indian alcohol abusers. The Interdiction or “Indian List” became culturally conceptualized as exclusively containing the names of First Nations peoples. Some white people thought that they couldn’t possibly be put on the Interdiction List or be labelled alcoholics simply because they were Caucasian (LCBO Interdiction List: File no. 3). As Valverde (2004: 568), explains, “The largely impoverished and largely rural Ontarians of various European backgrounds who sought interdiction for their relatives in effect turned the alcoholic relatives into symbolic Indians.” Further, this symbolic redefinition could have extra-symbolic effects. A listed person was also conceptually an “Indian,” and individuals added to the list saw the same loss of legal rights as those legally defined as Indians or Non-Treaty Indians. Under the Liquor Control Act their homes and private property could be, to use an intentionally ugly term, “reservationized” by means of conversion into a public place: the possession of alcohol would no longer be allowed within them and police would no longer be required to have search warrants to enter them. It is perhaps no accident that Indians were very familiar with lists because they were accustomed to the membership politics of Band Lists and the registration processes of the Indian Registry (see Imai 1998: 26ff; Reiter 1991: 12ff).

As a means of addressing the “drunken Indian” stereotype, First Nations groups such as the Aboriginal Health Organization and others sought to redevelop the sense of First Nations identity and understanding that predated alcohol — summarized by the phrase “Drinking is not Indian” (Aboriginal Health Organization cited in Campbell 2008: 118; see also Warry 1998: 139).

This reconceptualization was introduced as a means of dealing with alcohol abuse and of breaking alcohol’s link to the construction and conceptualization of First Nations cultural and personal identities. Although this link between accepted discourses and alcohol abuse requires further investigation and substantiation, it nonetheless provides support for our theoretical understanding of classification and convergence. This finding parallels what others (see Kline 1995) have discovered about the legal constructions of First Nations women as “bad mothers” — another area in which the ideology of motherhood, underwritten by assumptions about the race, class, and gender of First Nations women, converges with the punitive interests of child welfare law.

Although the stereotype of the “drunken Indian” was by no means completely derived from federal law and, later, LCBO policy, legal classification doubtless played an important role in the development of the conceptualization of Indians as being prone to behaviours that justified interdiction. The LCBO also certainly played a part in rendering visible and pressing Indians into stigmatized “drunk” behaviours. In effect, the LCBO was itself implicated in the creation of the problems it then sought to define and discipline.

The methodologies and technologies of classification were key to the development of prejudices and the convergence of organizational understandings and lived social experiences. The LCBO’s reliance upon prototypical classification as opposed to other more individualizing means of classification indicates the ability of such systems to be self-reinforcing through the development of feedback loops. Also noteworthy is the link between prototypical classification and asymmetry in generalization: the Board’s use of prototypical classification highlighted cases that fit the prototypical “drunken Indian” stereotype, while making it less likely that LCBO staff would conceptually generalize information regarding temperate Indian drinkers to all Indians. Importantly, Rosch’s findings stress the importance of Board policy and technology in conceptually linking First Nations peoples and interdicted individuals, as well as making this unsafe Indian drinking more culturally visible — effectively making drunkards more likely to be identified as Indians, more likely to be remembered as Indians, more likely to be learned as being just like Indians, and more likely to be understood as the “best example,” or prototype, of Indian.

Finally, liquor law, and LCBO policy and technologies, contributed to the convergence of the Indian/Interdicted category and had a direct impact on the lived experiences of First Nations peoples and others recoded as Indians.

Although Joseph Westermeyer (1996: 112) undoubtedly has a sound argument that for First Nations peoples “any single history or description of drinking practices” is severely limited due to the variation in cultures and histories of the various nations, the case of Indian classification and the associated legal history does represent an important shared element of these independent histories. Given that the legal classification system and LCBO interdiction policy were not constructed, or co-constructed, in accordance with the highly diverse First Nations cultures of Ontario, and that the LCBO imposed its regulations with great care to be consistent, we argue that similar processes of classification and its consequences were experienced not just by the First Nations populations within the province.

<< Canadian Legal Classifications and First Nations       
Interdiction and the “Indian List”
Prototypical Classification
The LCBO and the Classification of Indians
First Nations and Alcohol 1939–75
The Impact of Prototypical Classification
The Impact of the Indian/Interdiction Classification >>