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Stephanie Woodard: Beer profiteers fighting Whiteclay lawsuit





"The Oglala Lakota elder spread out the map on her kitchen table. It showed the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where possessing, consuming or selling booze can land you in jail. “People living in the western part of the reservation can get alcohol in the border town of Oelrichs, South Dakota, where carryout is available, and I hear a second bar has just been built,” she said, sweeping her hand across the left side of the map. “If you live on the eastern side, around Allen, for example, you can drive over to Martin to drink or buy carryout. In the northern part of the reservation, you can go to [the town of] Interior. And of course, there’s Whiteclay, to the south of us in Nebraska.”

Though the town of Whiteclay, population about 12, is the most notorious of the tiny, alcohol-soaked border towns surrounding the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, there are plenty of places where booze is easily available to Oglala Sioux Tribe members. Like gruesome beads on a giant necklace, bars and carryout stores ring the reservation. They also help drive its generations-long, alcohol-related public-health crisis: one in four babies born with fetal-alcohol effects, an infant mortality rate 300 percent higher than the country as a whole, youth suicide 150 percent higher than other Americans and life expectancy at least 25 years shorter.

The towns all have one major industry: selling beer to Indians. On the drive to Interior, just north of Pine Ridge, numerous road signs promise beer, wine and liquor. Once in the sleepy little burg, population 67, visitors can choose from half a dozen places to buy alcohol, to drink on the spot or carry out. On a recent Saturday night, the Wagon Wheel Bar & Grill served beer and whiskey to a mixed clientele of cowboys and Indians. A huge sign proclaiming INDIANS ALLOWED on the defunct bar in neighboring Scenic, South Dakota, now a near-ghost town, long pointed Lakotas to the bar—and adjoining jail."

Get the Story:
Stephanie Woodard: Beer Profiteers Fight Oglala Lawsuit That Seeks Control of Alcohol Sales (Indian Country Today 6/5)

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