The Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota reservation is one of the oldest and largest Indian reservations in the United States. While its history is complex and filled with intrigue, it was essentially founded in 1868 by the Laramie Treaty. Today, tragically, the Pine Ridge reservation has become a petri dish for the growth of nearly every social ill imaginable. From its 80 percent unemployment rate to its epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome, the Lakota residents of Pine Ridge cling to an uncertain existence.
One of the many problems that Pine Ridge denizens face is widespread alcoholism. Most of this excessive thirst for spirits is provided by the four liquor stores located in Whiteclay, Nebraska, just over the state line. Alcohol sales have long been illegal on the reservation itself, so the liquor store owners just set up shop right up the road in Nebraska. The town of Whiteclay has only 14 official residents and has never had any industry besides the provision of booze to the Pine Ridge locals.
This has sparked the ire of a number of politicians, activists and do-gooders over the years. Currently, the town of Whiteclay’s future hangs in the balance, as the liquor licenses, which are set to be renewed in May, have come under intense scrutiny by the Nebraska state government. There is much talk of the licenses being allowed to permanently expire. However, when talking to the residents of the reservation themselves, many are not at all opposed to the presence of the liquor stores, even those who do not drink.
Vince Blacksmith is a Lakota and a teacher on the reservation. He says that the activists have their hearts in the right place but may be doing more harm than good. He argues that the idea of Natives being more prone to alcoholism, while statistically true on some levels, has been greatly exaggerated. The reason, he argues, for the rampant binge drinking isn’t an intractable disposition of Lakota to drunkenness, it’s instead a reflection of the dire circumstances in which most of the Pine Ridge reservation lives. He says that, without addressing the underlying causes of anomie, such as grinding poverty, joblessness and broken homes, the drinking will continue.
Categories: Native American, The Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota