The Oglala Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota is among the largest and oldest of its kind in the United States. But since its founding in the 1870s, the reservation has been dry. Alcohol sales have been prohibited by law, due to a perceived tendency of the Native Americans who reside there to become alcoholics and excessively drink.

 

This ban on alcohol sales has meant that for nearly the entirety of the reservation’s existence, the neighboring town of Whiteclay, Nebraska has picked up the slack where the dry reservation has left off. It has been the go-to source for the reservation’s natives who need to buy beer. This arrangement, where Pine Ridge residents needed only to trek a couple hundred yards over the state line to buy the beer that they couldn’t get at home, had persisted since at least the early 1880s.

 

But last April, the Nebraska Liquor Control Board resolved to finally put an end to the more than 120 years of alcohol sales taking place in the town. The city’s four beer stores were finally denied license renewal and shut down, pending a final decision by the Nebraska Appeals Court.

 

In the meantime, many observers say that the move amounted to little more than shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. The game of alcoholic wack-a-mole has now moved to neighboring towns, such as Rushville, Nebraska, whose liquor stores have reported a 25 percent increase in sales since the stores in Whiteclay were shut down. Other nearby towns report 200 and 300 percent increases in liquor sales.

 

Critics of the move to shutdown Whiteclay say that there is already evidence that drunken driving arrests have increased within Sheridan County, Nebraska. Drinkers are now driving 25-50 miles to get their fix of alcohol, whereas before, they only needed to travel a few hundred yards to Whiteclay.

 

Whether the shutdown will ultimately reduce alcohol consumption has yet to be seen. But the heavy-handed government intervention is redolent of the disastrous policies of Prohibition.

 

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

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