Lakota Activists Fight Back against Alcoholism

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In September 2017, the Supreme Court of Nebraska ruled to close the town of Whiteclay’s four liquor stores, the Guardian reported. According to Oliver Laughland and Tom Silverstone’s report, with no local government and only 14 residents, Whiteclay functioned only to sell alcohol to the Oglala Lakota Sioux people, whose community has been ravaged by alcoholism, birth defects brought on by drinking while pregnant, and four times the national average suicide rate.

As Laughland and Silverstone wrote, “Whiteclay had become the focal point of the tribe’s attempts to target abuse head on.” Its closure “marked a victory for campaigners who have pushed for years to see the liquor stores gone.”

But already bootleggers have adapted, they reported, bringing vodka from the towns of Rushville and Chadron, about 30 miles from the south of the reservation, to sell at heavily marked-up prices to people on the officially-dry reservation.

The Guardian article also noted that Oglala Lakota community leaders were well aware of the potentially devastating impacts of President Trump’s policies—including especially his proposed 25% cut to the federal food stamps program—on their communities. In 2009, Laughland and Silverstone reported, at least 49% of the community received benefits through the food stamps program. Other proposed cuts to federal departments would impact grant funds that the tribe relies on to provide public services including education, public health and policing.

On the day of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling, outside of Whiteclay, a group of seven Lakota men set up a tipi and a banner that read, “Sober Indian, Dangerous Indian,” Laughland and Silverstone reported.

Source: Oliver Laughland and Tom Silverstone, “Liquid Genocide: Alcohol Destroyed Pine Ridge Reservation–Then They Fought Back,” The Guardian, September 29, 2017,

Student Researcher: Devon Harris (College of Western Idaho)

Faculty Evaluator: Michelle Mahoney (College of Western Idaho)