As long as the United States has existed, the rights of Native Americans and the responsibilities of the U.S. Federal Government towards them has been a contentious issue. While most of the legal controversies and unsettled points of law have been ironed out over the last 150 years, there still remain unique circumstances that arise from time to time, reminding America of the uniquely sovereign status of Native American nations and the particular history that has shaped their relationship with the United States government.
One such case is that of the Oglala Sioux reservation known as Pine Ridge. For as long as the reservation has existed, it has been strictly prohibited to buy, sell or consume alcohol within its borders. Contrary to what many think, this was not a product of paternalistic U.S. heads of Indian Affairs. Rather, it was largely at the behest of the Native Americans and their tribal leadership that the decision has long been taken to limit the ability of Pine Ridge residents to acquire alcohol.
However, for the entire existence of the Pine Ridge reservation, the neighboring town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, located just a few hundred yards across its border, has been able to circumvent these rules, selling over 3.5 million cans of beer each year to Pine Ridge residents.
But finally, in 2017, the beer stores of Whiteclay were shuttered for the last time. However, mayors of neighboring towns are now concerned with the upticks they’re seeing in drunk driving arrested and accidents. Thus, the issues of Native sovereignty and its relationships to free markets continue, even in 2017.