Alcohol drives Oglala Sioux Tribe's lawsuit whiteclay,
Neb., has a population of 14 people. It is in northwest Nebraska, bordering the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, only two miles from the city of Pine Ridge. Whiteclay has four off-sale beer stores that, according to numerous sources, sell approximately 4.5 million cans of beer annually. So who could be buying all that beer?
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the owners of the four beer stores in Whiteclay in addition to the beer distributors and manufacturers that supply those stores. It is illegal to consume or possess alcohol on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. But the tribe says these stores are undermining that law by providing the alcohol just beyond the border, knowing full well who they are selling it to and where it is going.
One might characterize this as a frivolous lawsuit, wondering “Why don’t the Indians just stop buying beer?” But this simplistic response ignores the reality of the situation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, as well as the role alcohol has playing in the lives of American Indians for the past 160 years
Author Michael Marvin reports some alarming statistics related to Indian alcohol use:
• Alcoholism death rates in the reservation area are 1,622 percent higher than the national population mean.
• Tuberculosis death rates in the reservation area are 1,233 percent higher than the national population.
• Diabetes mellitus death rates in the reservation area are 517 percent higher than the national population mean.
• Suicide rates in the reservation area are 265 percent higher than the national population mean.
Beginning with the Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868, American Indians were forced to confine themselves to the reservations. They were forced to completely change their nomadic lifestyle to one of sedentary farming in western South Dakota. The children, ages 6 to 16, were taken away from their parents and shipped hundreds of miles away to a “white” school. They were forced to wear uniforms, cut their hair (a sign of mourning in their culture), speak only English (students were beaten for speaking their native language), and taught Christianity. On the grounds of the most well-known of these schools, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, are the graves of 186 students who died there. The boarding school era continued for decades, removing American Indian children from their families.
Today, the U.S. Census bureau reports that the percentage of households living at or below the poverty rates on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are 365 percent higher than the national population mean. One might argue that the denigration of tribes, and their children, continues with the enabling (for profit) by businesses such as those in Whiteclay.
The U.S. is considered one of the