Law | National

Native Sun News: Oglala leader discusses liquor and per caps

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Larry Eagle Bull Sr., sat down with Native Sun News to speak on a number of important topics facing the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Eagle Bull addresses alcohol sales and Salazar payments
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

RAPID CITY –A lifelong resident of Pine Ridge village and a Navy veteran, Larry Eagle Bull Sr., sat down with Native Sun News to speak on a number of important topics facing the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The longtime employee of the Indian Health Service and former member of both the Pine Ridge School Board and Pine Ridge Village Council has earned a reputation throughout his first term in office as a semi-conservative and highly knowledgeable business minded legislator.

Larry spoke with NSN about a number of issues including the recent decision by the OST tribal council to distribute $1 million to each of the nine reservation districts. The money was part of the $20 million the tribe received as a result of settling with the Federal government as part of the historic Salazar case.

“Everyone wants money and they are going to try and pay it out per capita but that isn’t what it is intended for. It is intended to improve your district so that we will have something here for our kids and grandkids when we are dead and gone,” he said. “When the Cobell money came in it was gone for most people in a weekend. I know my wife spent it like that,” said Eagle Bull jokingly.

Recently the Pass Creek district on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation made the decision to begin dispersing the dollars per capita to those living in its district and who had filled out an application to do so. Amongst the nine districts on the reservation population varies drastically with some only having a few hundred residents and others like Pine Ridge having several thousand. Eagle Bull was critical of the decision and feels that it was not the best way to spend those dollars.

“Pass Creek wanted per cap and so did Lydia Bear Killer (Pass Creek council rep). I was against that for a few reasons. For one you are inviting lawsuits. Tribes who have done it this way have told us that people are suing them and wining. Pass Creek is saying it is just for them out there (with residency in the district). What about for the people who live up here in Rapid or live somewhere else? They could be from Pass Creek and just be living somewhere else right now. If I had family living somewhere else I would want them to get some of it,” said Eagle Bull. “I tried so hard for no per cap. Why are we inviting lawsuits and making districts fight with each other? We are already getting calls in Pine Ridge with people asking when they are getting there money and we are not going to do it in Pine Ridge. We want something more to come from it,” he added.

When asked what he had proposed for his district the councilmen said that ideally it would be spent on investments that would yield sustainable development for the community living there. “We would like business proposals and we want this money to turn around and turnover. Per cap would be gone and we will have nothing to show for any of this,” he said.

In addition to Salazar the big talk on the reservation and across Indian country right now is the decision made by the OST tribal council to allow a referendum vote of the legalization of alcohol on the reservation. The sale and possession of alcohol has been illegal on Pine Ridge since the creation of the reservation minus a one month lift on the ban during the Dick Wilson presidency in 1970. The reservation has some of the highest alcoholism rates in the country and local law enforcement officials have stated publicly that 90% of the crime on the reservation is alcohol related.

Eagle Bull said that an election commission has been reinstated and is working to get all the pertinent information out to the public. According to Eagle Bull the tribe will be the sole profiteer of the sales with all proceeds going directly in to an account that would be set aside for treatment.

“The money generated will not go in to the general fund despite what people are saying. It will go in to a special fund designed for treatment centers and rehab only. That is the only way it should be. If it does pass then we will be able to have some funding to really address the alcoholism and to help people. There will be money to educate families about the impact of alcohol. Other places have organizations and trained people to teach and educate. We don’t get any other money for this no one wants to help the Indians we have to help ourselves. In the long run we will better ourselves if it passes but not the short run”.

When asked how he would have voted had the council been the decider he said that he would have voted no because it is a decision that the people should make in his opinion.

“If the council would have had to make the decision I would have said no because it is not my job the people need to be the ones to say that. I wanted to let the people have their own say there are a lot of smart people out there who know how to weigh the good and bad of it. Let the people decide. If it doesn’t pass then that is fine,’ he said.

When talking about alcohol and Pine Ridge it is hard to avoid the topic of White Clay. With the recent arrest of President Brewer and his continued lobbying to close the town down due to its high sales of alcohol. Eagle Bull however presented a pragmatic view of the whole situation.

“White Clay will not go away - people have a choice of where they want to buy alcohol. We do not have the right to close it down it is the people’s choice where they are going to shop. They are businessmen up there who are living off our suffering but it is a personal choice for those who spend money there. The store owners up there do not care about our people and are not trying to help any of us. Now if we had our own stores here we would be able to place our own people in detox and in treatment we would also be able to help their families while they are in treatment,” he said. “When you talk to those guys in White Clay they say they would go to treatment if we had one here they do not want to get sent away. There is no getting around the fact that we need one here. We need one that can include our cultural values and the other treatment facilities off the reservation.”

There have been rumors on social media that the legalization of alcohol would allow for state law enforcement officials to exercise however according to tribal officials and legal experts this is not true.

“Alcohol is not going away - it is never going away. The misconception is that this is about money. It is not. This is about helping our people and creating places here where we can get them help,” said Eagle Bull.

If passed the tribe would allow for each district to have an alcohol distribution site that would be managed and maintained by an alcohol commission.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

Join the Conversation