Nebraska Supreme Court Decision a Victory against Alcoholism for Pine Ridge Reservation

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Oliver Laughland and Oliver Silverstone of the Guardian reported that in late summer 2017, the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously ruled to close Whiteclay, Nebraska’s four liquor stores–which had fueled generations of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Alcoholism has been a prominent issue for the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe which inhabits Pine Ridge. According to Laughland and Silverstone’s report, “Up to two-thirds of adults live with alcoholism,” and according to the website for the documentary Sober Indian Dangerous Indian, “One out of four children born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has fetal alcohol syndrome,” which has “irreversible physical and emotional effects” on children who are born with it.

Closing the liquor stores was a huge win, but the people of the reservation still face many problems. Whiteclay’s liquor stores flooded Pine Ridge with roughly 11,000 cans of beer each day. While the stores are gone, the demand for alcohol remains. “Local bootleggers now travel further afield, to the towns of Rushville and Chadron in Nebraska, about 30 miles from the south of the reservation, to buy gallons of cheap spirits, dilute them with water and sell a 500ml bottle for around $10 – about a 1,000% markup,” per Laughland and Silverstone’s report. Police Lieutenant Jason Lone Hill says there is a bootlegger in every district of the reservation supplying alcohol, with vodka being the drink of choice.

Alcohol has been illegal in Pine Ridge since the reservation was established in 1889, but there are not enough officers to enforce its legally dry status. Laughland and Silverstone note that “After a loss of grant money under the George W Bush administration, there are now just 32 officers in the entire department–10 years ago, it was more than 100.” 32 officers are assigned the task of supervising the 3,500-square mile reservation.

Federal budget cuts have affected Pine Ridge for years. An article by David Melmer published in Indian Country Today in February 2003 stated, “The Bush Administration tax cuts also translated to budget cuts for many South Dakota water projects.” The article also noted empty promises from the Bush administration. “In President Bush’s campaign speeches he said he would provide $100 million for education in Indian country to provide new and updated class rooms and his ‘Leave no Child Behind’ campaign was passed by Congress, signed into law, yet lawmakers and educators complain that funding is not available to carry out the mandates of the law, especially in Indian country.” According to Laughland and Silverstone’s article, Pine Ridge fears budget cuts from the current presidential administration. “Trump’s proposed 25% budget cuts to the food stamp programme (on which at least 49% of people here relied in 2009) would make many more children go hungry here…”

There has been virtually no corporate media coverage Whiteclay’s liquor stores closing. A January 2018 Huffington Post article written by Eleanor Goldberg covered suicide rates and poverty on the reservation. Goldberg’s article addressed those two topics in-depth, and even described how poor Pine Ridge is compared to other counties throughout the United States, but her Huffington Post report did not address the problem of alcoholism on the reservation. It mentions funds Pine Ridge received from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and how the amount it receives will likely lower in the future, but it does not mention anything else about federal budget cuts or increases.

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

Student Researcher: Anthony La Parry (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)