Indian Reservation Ends Prohibition to Fight Alcoholism Epidemic

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota is among the poorest regions in the country. Life on the reservation paints a clear picture of the alcoholism that is prevalent within the Native American community. The community carries an 80 percent unemployment rate, an 80 percent rate of  alcoholism and experiences four times the national rate of domestic abuse and suicide compared to the rest of the country. A disturbingly large portion of the residents live in substandard conditions in which one in four children suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted in 2013 to end the reservation’s prohibition law, allowing the sale of alcohol on the reservation. They legalized the sale of alcohol to use the profits for education reform and treatment. This policy change brought an end to a law that had spanned over a century and marked the beginning of a new era for the tribe.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation houses approximately 40,000 members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and is comprised of over 2,000,000 acres just above the South Dakota-Nebraska border. This reservation has been described by some to be the equivalent of a third world country.

In 2012, the native tribe filed a $500 million dollar lawsuit against beer manufacturers for the destruction that their products have inflicted upon the community for decades. The town’s alcohol abuse was fueled for a long time by the outrageous convenience store sales made by the neighboring town Whiteclay, Nebraska. The total number of sales added up to upwards of 11,000 cans of malt liquor daily.

These lawsuits filed against local convenience stores apparently did not stick and the reservation realized prohibition just was not helping the matter. Under the new law, the tribe will run stores on the reservation and the profits will be allocated towards funding education reform and alcohol treatment centers, which have received little to no funding at all.

Some critics have claimed that ending prohibition may only worsen the problem of alcohol abuse on the reservation. However, a documentary titled “Dangerous Indian, Sober Indian” tells the story of those on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who have made profound transformations through sobriety though others still struggle with alcoholism. The film is set in the weeks leading up to the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s monumental vote to legalize the sale of alcohol on the reservation in 2013.

“Dangerous Indian, Sober Indian” was produced by former Oklahoma Attorney General John A. Maisch, who now serves as Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma. Maisch produced the documentary in an effort to raise awareness of the gravity of the alcoholism epidemic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The film paints a clear picture of the harsh financial conditions that inhabitants endure and the depravity that goes hand-in-hand with this issue in one of America’s the poorest regions.

Selling alcohol is prohibited on Indian reservations unless it is voted upon by the tribal council. The Native American population has long been associated with high rates of alcoholism and the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionfound that one in 10 deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives were alcohol-related, more than three times the national average. Hopefully, this measure can steer inhabitants away from leaving the reservation to feed their addiction and allow them better access to alcohol treatment programs to address the alcoholism.

Sovereign Health Group offers various inpatient and outpatient treatment programs for patients struggling with addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis conditions. If you know someone who is struggling with alcoholism and is in need of alcohol treatment, please contact the Sovereign Health Group of Fort Myers at 866-547-3360.

Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer

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