Booze ban overturned on Pine Ridge reservation
Under the new law, the Oglala Sioux Tribe will own and operate stores on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and profits will be used for education and for detoxification and treatment centers.
The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — home to some of the highest rates of unemployment, domestic abuse and suicide in Indian Country — have voted to end prohibition and legalize alcohol so the tribe can use the profits for education and treatment.
A majority of voters Tuesday approved the measure, but the outcome was left hanging because of 438 challenged ballots.
Francis Pumpkin Seed, Oglala Sioux Tribe Election Commission chairman, said workers Wednesday checked each of those ballots to confirm they were cast by enrolled members. After that was complete, the result was 1,871 for legalization and 1,679 against it, he said.
“Life will change now,” said an elated Larry Eagle Bull, one of nine tribal council members who put the issue to a public vote.
Under the law, the tribe will own and operate stores on the reservation, and profits will be used for education and for detoxification and treatment centers, for which there is little to no funding.
“Now we can finally get the help we need,” said Eagle Bull, himself a reformed alcoholic. “Only good can come from it.”
Critics said legalization will exacerbate the reservation’s troubles.
Eagle Bull said it will be six months to a year before sales could begin. “We have a lot of work to do yet,” he said.
The U.S. government has traditionally banned alcohol on reservations, but during the past 20 years, as more tribes have opened casinos — the leading economic drivers on many reservations — those prohibitions have been relaxed by tribes. Still, many reservations continue to limit alcohol sales and consumption to casinos.
Even the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath in Pine Ridge has been cause for arrest. But despite the ban, alcohol — particularly beer — is plentiful on Pine Ridge. Most comes from four stores that sell alcohol in the tiny town of Whiteclay, just across the Nebraska border from the reservation.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.