Fighting alcoholism on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is about more than money
“Everybody knows me as ‘Babe’ around here.”
Standing by the main drag of Whiteclay, Neb. on a recent evening, Babe was trying to get a ride back to his mother. He hitched into town from his home, which he said is about 20 miles away. He lives on the Pine Ridge reservation, where alcohol is illegal - so he came to Whiteclay to buy beer.
“Me, I’m on a liquor diet,” Babe said. “I only have a couple months to live.”
Babe said he has cirrhosis of the liver, which he believed will soon take his life. And in Whiteclay, he’s likely not alone. That night, several men and women were passed out on the sidewalks and in the grass. Many would stay outdoors overnight.
“Look,” Babe said. “They’re sleeping, they have no jackets. Me, I have a place to go.”
In a small building on a quiet street in Martin, South Dakota, about 45 miles east of Whiteclay, Gayle Kocer and Suzy Dennis run one of the few addiction treatment centers that serve the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The reservation, which surrounds Martin, is home to staggering alcoholism statistics. The numbers are hard to pin down, but some estimates say the disease, directly and indirectly, affects 85 percent of people there.
“I always believe there’s hope,” Dennis said. “Or I would not do this.”