Pine Ridge voters will decide on March 10support or oppose a referendum to allow alcohol sales limited to casino operations on the reservation. Pine Ridge is presently a “dry” reservation, and past efforts to legalize alcohol sales have failed at the ballot box. Last May, the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota 65 percent of tribal voters finally approved alcohol sales at tribal casino operations after many years of voting it down. This change can be attributed to looking all around their borders, especially over in Minnesota, and seeing how casino profits have changed the economic reality of several reservations. Alcoholism on Pine Ridge, and on every reservation in the United States, can arguably be deemed the single biggest threat any tribe faces to their health and well-being. Over eighty percent of Pine Ridge residents have abused alcohol, although the number of actual alcoholics is only about a quarter of that.
Every reservation economy is trapped between two cultures. These cultural standards are often diametric perceptions of what is right and proper when it comes to establishing the foundations of a sound reservation economy, an economy that will provide jobs, security, and rebuild and maintain tribal infrastructure. Many traditional people don’t want the tribe tearing up the land to mine resources or chop down timber, and this same activist mindset opposes business development that appears to prey on the vulnerability of tribal members, such as alcohol sales. Traditional concerns about the cultural and spiritual welfare of the people are not radical concepts. They speak to every tribe from the ancestral heart of who the people are, and where they have come from, and where the tribe is headed. Any tribal gaming or business operation must filter their objectives in a respectful way through those traditional tribal concerns and fears. But on the other hand, the purpose of any casino operation is to take full economic advantage of the trust relationship with the federal government that allows tribes to operate independent of state interference and restriction. In an 1866 United States Supreme Court ruling the justices remarked that the greatest enemy any tribe has is the state in which they reside. Tribal sovereignty gives every tribe a leg up on outside state competition for recreation dollars. Casino profits have helped transform the lives of tribes who were struggling economically, most notably the Shakopee Mdewakanton Band in Minnesota, and the Chickasaw Tribe in Oklahoma. Tribal gaming operations nationwide generate profits in the billions, far in excess of the entire Bureau of Indian Affairs budget for any given year. At present most of the people coming to Pine Ridge casinos are tribal members. The tribe has failed to lure in enough outside patrons. Bill Pourier, Director of Operations at Prairie Wind Casino, believes tribal revenue from casino operations would double if alcohol sales were allowed at casino operations. Feasibility studies back him up. It is hoped this would increase profits by attracting people from outside the reservation, which would help establish expansions, more money for musical acts, comedians, sporting events.
A flyer paid for by the Casino Alcohol Referendum Committee encourages voters of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to approve a referendum authorizing alcohol sales at gaming establishments on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
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