For over a century, the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation, located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, has been completely dry. Even in the 1870s, when the reservation was established, it was widely recognized that the local Native population struggled with alcoholism. Today, the Native residents of the Pine Ridge reservation have the highest rates of alcoholism of any group in the country. It is estimated that over 60 percent of its residents are dependent on alcohol.
It was for this reason that the reservation was established with laws in place to strictly prohibit the sale of liquor to the locals. However, the proximity to neighboring Nebraska quickly gave rise to a loophole. The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, just a few hundred yards across the state line, became the go-to watering hole for Natives who couldn’t buy beer, wine and liquor at home. For more than 130 years, Whiteclay was the go-to spot for Pine Ridge Natives who wanted to get their daily fix.
But in April of this year, after more than a century of beer sales, the Nebraska State Liquor Control Board finally put an end to the ability of Whiteclay’s four beer stores to sell alcohol to the local Natives. By refusing to renew the stores’ liquor licenses, the board effectively shut them all down, as of May 1.
But the closures have already had a number of disturbing, unintended consequences. Previously, the stores of Whiteclay were only permitted to sell beer and some low-alcohol-content wine-like products. Now, Natives are required to drive up to 25 miles, one way, to get their liquor. This has resulted in more sales of hard liquor, such as vodka and rum. Some observers are worried that the sudden switch to harder liquors will have health consequences for drinkers who were accustomed to drinking less potent beverages.
Another issue that has worried some is the already increased numbers of drunk driving arrests throughout Sheridan County, which abuts Pine Ridge.
Categories: Native American, Native American Issues, The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation