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Protests Outside Nebraska Liquor Stores Put Spotlight on Sales to Native Americans

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A series of protests outside four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, which sell alcohol to Native Americans from the Pine Ridge Reservation in neighboring South Dakota, are highlighting the problem of alcohol abuse among members of the Oglala Lakota tribe.

Alcohol is banned on the reservation, but the alcohol stores, located right across the state border, have long sold to tribe members, even minors, the Los Angeles Times reports. Tribe members say the sales violate a treaty that tribe elders signed with the federal government to keep alcohol outside a 10-mile buffer zone.

Activists from the American Indian Movement and the nonprofit group Alcohol Justice are joining the protests. The tribe has held protests before, the article notes. “We’ve reached a breaking point,” a tribal activist named Natalie Hand told the newspaper. “We’re tired of the issue of Whiteclay.”

Last year, the tribe sued beer manufacturers, demanding $500 million in damages. The suit alleged the companies knowingly contributed to alcohol-related problems on the reservation. The tribe sued for damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation that was caused by chronic alcoholism. The tribe also sued the four beer stores in Whiteclay, which sold almost five million cans of beer in 2010. Whiteclay is a town of only about a dozen residents. The tribe’s leaders blamed the beer stores for chronic alcohol abuse and bootlegging on the reservation.

The suit alleged the beer makers and stores sold their products to residents of the reservation, knowing they would smuggle the alcohol into the reservation, either to drink or resell. The federal judge that heard the case, U.S. District Judge John M. Gerrard, said that while “alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributes significantly to tragic conditions on the reservation,” he did not have the jurisdiction to take the case.

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