Legalizing Alcohol On The PineRidge Indian Reservation

I have written about the town of White Clay, Nebraska before in this blog. I think that town is a travesty. It is there for only one thing taking advantage of the people on PineRidge Reservation. However, the Lakota tribe is thinking about selling alcohol on the Rez. For the last 100 years the PineRidge Indian Reservation has been theoretically dry. I say theoretically, because there are many deaths related to alcohol on the Rez. Many of the Lakota people struggle with alcohol and drugs. They can purchase the stuff in Martin or White Clay, so to say the Rez is dry is a misnomer.

The argument for legalizing alcohol on the only dry reservation in South Dakota is “that the reservation is nonetheless saturated with alcohol and that if sales were regulated by the tribe, the tax money raised could be used for substance abuse programs.”

The argument against this legalization of alcohol sales on the Rez involves the seriousness of having alcohol so easy to get that the problems will only get worse. Cordelia White Elk states, “Its like saying, let’s kill our own people to save them.”

But why do Indians drink so much? Some say they are genetically predisposed to the disease of alcoholism. Others say that it is due to historical experience, the colonialism of the United States and contemporary pressures. One argument I read today just seems stupid. “Also thought to contribute: the relatively short time American Indians have been drinking compared to Europeans.” It seems the Europeans have learned how to drink, but the Indians haven’t. Poppycock?

With poverty an issue on PineRidge, 80% unemployment, and the fact that there is nothing to do out there without driving for miles; the Indians are set up for failure. PineRidge is a rural community of 50,000 people, while the size of the Rez is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Ron Duke, chief of tribal police states the police make about 26,000 arrests related to alcohol each year. He also stated that at 95% of police calls are related to alcohol. Every family on the Rez has someone who drinks too much. This is a huge social problem exacerbated by the horrible relationship between the United States and the Lakota. This needs fixing, but no one has an answer.

A woman quoted in the WSJ article I read this morning said, “it is about trying to heal our people, and move in a new direction. I visit PineRidge every year, and I love the people, but it is a bit frustrating that they continue to do the same things but expect a different result. There are many Lakota who have quit drinking and taking drugs.

With all this said, one thing I do know is that the problems on the Rez cannot be fixed by those from without. Only the people on the Rez can to step up and fix themselves. This can be supported by those of us who live off the Rez, but it is the Lakota people who need to see the urgency, and do what they need to do to save their people.

And that is my thought for the day!


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