The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation is among the poorest locations in the United States. The reservation has suffered from disproportionate social ills since its establishment in 1868. It suffers an unemployment rate of over 80 percent and has the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the country, estimated to be as high as 25 percent of all newborns.
The town of Whiteclay sprang up quickly after the reservation was established. For the entirety of its existence, its sole purpose has been to provide the residents of the reservation with beer and booze. Long dry by law, the reservation itself has no liquor stores. But this has never stopped its residents from drinking.
Today, the town of Whiteclay has four liquor stores that collectively sell millions of cans and bottles of beer per year to the Lakota Indians who come there to buy alcohol. The town has only 14 permanent residents and no other industry. But its days may be numbered.
Lawmakers and activists have vowed to finally shut down the liquor stores, which often feature passed out Natives, fights and other drunk and disorderly conduct on their premises. The liquor stores have a renewal hearing coming up for their liquor licenses in May. Some politicians have voiced their intention to see to it that none of the licenses are renewed. These politicians view the removal of the liquor stores as a step in the direction towards lowering the incidence of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge reservation. But not everyone agrees that it is the best way to achieve that end.
Vance Blacksmith is himself a Lakota. The 47 year old is a teacher at one of the reservation’s schools. He believes that the removal of the liquor stores in Whiteclay won’t have a measurable effect on the problem and may even make it worse. He sees the main driver of the increased rates of alcoholism on the reservation not as an increased disposition of Natives to intemperance but as a reflection of a largely hopeless existence, marked by no employment prospects, poor educational attainment and broken homes.
Categories: Native American, Native American Culture, The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation