In “A Drug Called Tradition” by Sherman Alexie, we are told the story of three Native American youth who try a new drug and go on a spiritual journey. The story centers around the main idea of “tradition” and its place in Native American life and spirituality. Many Native Americans have a complicated relationship with the concept of tradition, and it isn’t easy to remember many traditions because of how the US government and white settlers have decimated Native American culture.
The painful history associated with a culture that is mostly lost is why Victor tells Thomas that he is welcome to come along to try the drug so long as, “you don't tell any of your stories until after you've taken the drug.”
The story implies that Thomas is always trying to tell the cultural and historical stories associated with the Spokane—but Victor and Junior, like most Native Americans on the reservation, don’t want to hear them—except when they’re under the influence of the new drug.
The drug, therefore, represents a bridge to the past. While it is destructive, as destructive as alcohol, it allows them to repress the pain and disconnect they feel at the loss of their culture and creates a bridge to who they really are.
The spiritual journeys they go on that night, under the influence of the drug, show the importance of it to their self-discovery. Thomas explains the importance of the situation when he is allowed to tell a story at the end finally,
It is now. Three Indian boys are drinking Diet Pepsi and talking out by Benjamin Lake. They are wearing only loincloths and braids. Although it is the twentieth century and planes are passing overhead, the Indian boys have decided to be real Indians tonight.
They all want to have their vision, to receive their true names, their adult names. That is the problem with Indians these days. They have the same names all their lives. Indians wear their names like a pair of bad shoes.
Thomas tells their story. Of how they have come to find their past through the use of the drugs, and the drugs act as a bridge to find their true names, and to really become Native Americans in the most real sense—not just Indians who live on a reservation, but real Indians that carry on the truth and tradition from their past.