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Vote to Decide Alcohol Issue

In March 2012 there was a story about the Oglala Sioux Tribe bringing a lawsuit against the four little beer sellers near their reservation and the breweries that made the alcohol and allegedly encouraged the Native Americans to drink it. On October 3, 2012 there was more news: they lost the case.

The small town of Whiteclay and its dozen or so residents did indeed sell alcoholic beverages – about 4.3 million 12 oz cans to give a close estimate – to whoever was of age and had the money to legally buy the products. In doing so, they broke no law.
The tribe blames those businesses for profiting off of the horrendous alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which does not even allow alcohol on its premises. They wanted $500 million to help cover the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation programs. The beer companies responded that they were not allowed to discriminate regarding whom they sold their products to, nor control who decided to buy them. A federal judge in Nebraska threw the case out, saying that his court didn’t have jurisdiction to address the allegations; he made no remark regarding the content of the case itself.

Tribal councilman and chairman of the law and order committee James Big Boy said that he knew the lawsuit might not be won, but he wanted to give it a try anyway. He is now spearheading a plan to take a vote on the reservation on the possibility of allowing alcohol on the reservation.

"It's time," he said. "It's time to go ahead and bring this forward. Let the people decide. The feedback I've gotten from a large number of communities is they're ready, also."

It’s not that they want to encourage more drinking on the reservation. Rather, the goal is to sell the spirits themselves and tax the profits themselves so that they can take the money and use it to fund law enforcement, youth programs and other government services. While it seems a bit ironic to sell the item that causes the problems so that you can then work on solving the problems that were caused by your sales – it is functionally what is being done everywhere in the United States already, so, why not on the Indian Reservation also?


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