The Oglala Sioux have long been plagued by the problems of alcoholism. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, has the highest rates of alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome anywhere in the county. It has been estimated that 60 percent of the reservation’s population are full-blown alcoholics.


The Liquor Control Board of the neighboring state of Nebraska sought to finally do something about the shocking rates of alcoholism. The Native Americans of the Pine Ridge reservation, which has strictly prohibited the sale of alcohol within its jurisdiction since its establishment in the 1870s, had been flooding across the state line and into the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska in order to buy beer and liquor since the 1880s. By the 2000s, there were four liquor stores, collectively selling more than 3.5 million cans of beer every year to the residents of Pine Ridge.


But in April of this year, the Nebraska Liquor Control Board decided not to renew the liquor licenses of these stores, effectively shuttering them. While this has put an end to the rampant lawlessness, vagrancy and public drunkenness within the town of Whiteclay, many residents throughout Sheridan County, where Whiteclay is located, are distressed at the influx of those problems to their towns.


The largest city in the area, Rushville, Nebraska, has reported increases in drunken driving and its liquor stores have had their sales boosted by 25 percent. Stores in other towns throughout the country have seen sales increases of up to 300 percent. It seems that the problem, rather than being resolved, has just been moved elsewhere.


But the town of Whiteclay, which would typically have between 30 and 50 people, on any given afternoon, loitering around, sleeping in alleys and lying passed-out in the street, has seen almost all of its previous vagrant population disperse to other locales.


Still, many question the wisdom of removing accessible liquor stores and forcing drinkers to drive many times farther. There is already evidence of increased drunken driving throughout Sheridan County.


Categories: Native American, The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation, Whiteclay

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