Native Americans at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota have voted to overturn a more than century-old ban on alcohol in a decision that critics say will spur an increase in already high rates of domestic abuse, suicide and infant mortality.
Tribe members finalized the vote count Wednesday: 1,871 for legalization and 1,679 against.
Federal law has long prohibited the sale of alcohol on Native American reservations unless the tribe specifically allows it. Pine Ridge — home to Oglala Lakota, or Oglala Sioux, one of seven Lakota subtribes — was established in 1889, and has prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol for all but a brief few months in the early 1970s, when it experimented with lifting the ban but quickly reinstated it.
"Life will change now as we know it," Larry Eagle Bull, one of nine tribal council members who put the issue to a public vote, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
Opponents found the vote difficult to accept. “How far are we going to let it go?” asked tribal President Bryan Brewer, who staunchly opposed ending prohibition, according to The New York Times. “How many more children are going to be murdered because of this?”
More on the troubled relationship between Whiteclay, Pine Ridge and alcohol:
Whiteclay, Neb. sits on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The town is located a few miles from a sign that welcomes visitors to “The Good Life.” But some describe it as “hell.”
Whiteclay, population around 11, is a visible outpost of the alcoholism that runs rampant on the reservation. But how did this small Nebraska town become such a scene of devastation? Why does it fester, and whose responsibility is it to clean it up?
Nebraska Lawsuit Latest In Fight Over Whiteclay
"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.
Fighting Alcoholism On Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Is About More Than Money
And this reporting on allegations of violence between anti-alcohol and pro-alcohol contingents:
Tensions in the northwest Nebraska town of Whiteclay have been escalating for the past month following allegations of violence against beer distributors. Shortly before a scheduled press conference Friday morning in Lincoln, activist Timothy McKenzie was arrested. He was intending to file a complaint against a Whiteclay liquor store owner for alleged violence against protestors.
Activist Arrested As Tension And Violence Escalate In Whiteclay, Nebraska