More than 1/3 of the 300+ Indian reservations in the United States are still “dry” today. That means that these tribal governments continue to ban the importation and/or possession and use of alcoholic beverages on their reservations. This is a vestige of American history in which alcohol devastated many tribal communities, and was used by colonists and governmental treaty negotiators to negatively impact American Indians.
In treaties and laws, tribal governments and the United States tried for centuries to control the importation of alcohol into Indian country. See Robert J. Miller & Maril Hazlett, The ‘Drunken Indian:’ Myth Distilled Into Reality Through Federal Indian Alcohol Policy, 28 Ariz.St. L.J. 223-298 (1996) for further information.
Incredibly, bootlegging is still a problem in Indian country.
A newspaper article from October pointed out the serious issues.
As an example, it claims that nearly every murder, fistfight, and rape on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota starts with a drink.
And it asks an interesting question: “Would lifting the ban on reservation liquor sales make a difference?”
It also states in part: “Alcoholism strikes four out of five families in the nation’s second-poorest county, despite a ban as old as the reservation itself.”
“The Oglala band of the Lakota nation, known to outsiders as the Sioux, live today in some of the nation’s worst poverty conditions. The Pine Ridge prairie landscape is scattered with junk cars, rotting trailers and graffiti-laced, 1970s-era federal housing.”
“Unemployment hovers around 80 percent, according to tribal census figures, and one-third of those with jobs live below the federal poverty line. Teenagers commit suicide at a rate nearly twice the national average. Life expectancy is lowest in the northern hemisphere, except for Haiti. One in three women have been raped.”
“Police blame alcohol for many of the problems, but the debate has raged on Pine Ridge for years. Advocates who want to legalize alcohol say the tribal ban buries police in simple possession cases and creates a forbidden allure that encourages binge drinking. Others say lifting the ban would worsen the tribe’s long, ugly struggle with alcohol.”
Tribal council candidate Denver American Horse says he will push for a ballot measure if elected in November.
“I’ve always had a lot of faith and confidence in the tribal members,” says American Horse, who stopped drinking 22 years ago. “I feel they can handle alcohol if it’s legalized.”
“Alcohol possession arrests inundate the short-staffed, high-turnover tribal police department. The current certified force of 42 would need to at least double before the department could serve all of the reservation’s needs, says Oglala Sioux Public Safety Director Everett Little Whiteman. The alcohol ban is “not working, and has never worked,” Little Whiteman says.”
“Illegal peddlers thrive in the limp economy. Locals who can’t find a seller will drive as far as 60 miles one way for alcohol. “Legalizing would help, but it would not help at the same time,” Rascher says. “I think it would help as far as the DUIs and car accidents. The ones who (want) alcohol will drive to a border town to buy it, but then they don’t want to wait until they get back to their house to drink. They start drinking in the car.”
Whiteclay, Nebraska is a bump-in-the-road prairie town with fewer than two dozen residents, 200 feet south of the reservation border. The main drag leads motorists past a faith ministry, a pawn shop, three grocery stores and four off-sale beer stores that sold 4.6 million cans of beer last year, mostly to Indians. Authorities say Whiteclay feeds the alcoholism and violence on Pine Ridge more than any other town.”
Read the entire article.