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Native American Tribe Is Suing Beer Companies

A lawsuit surrounding a South Dakotan Indian tribe is helping to spread awareness about communities that suffer from alcoholism — communities like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the poorest counties in the United States.

How alcoholism effects the tribal community

Residents of Pine Ridge, a community located on the southern edge of South Dakota, live in poverty. The unemployment rate is 80%. The cause of Pine Ridge’s woes is alcoholism. One in four babies born in Pine Ridge suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, and the life expectancy is only 45 to 52 years, far below the national average of 77. Someone in four out of every five families has a drinking problem. (1) Alcoholic adults spend much time behind bars for alcohol-related crimes, others are homeless, but they all seem to find their way back to the bars and liquor stores. Alcohol is killing off this community and making life miserable for its members.

But get this… Pine Ridge is a dry reservation, and so alcohol is completely banned.

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Turning it back on the beer companies

Nearly all of the alcohol that supports these Native American’s habits is purchased and consumed in a nearby town, Whiteclay, Nebraska. This is how the lawsuit comes into play. Located just across the state border and outside the reservation, Whiteclay is a tiny town of just 11 citizens. Last year, the town’s four liquor stores sold 4.3 million cans of beer! The stores sell a 30-pack of Budweiser cans for $27.25 — nearly twice as high as it costs elsewhere in the country. (2)

Now the Indian tribe is suing the four liquor stores, their distributors and the international brewing companies for $500 million to cover damages associated with health care, law enforcement and “family tragedies.” The lawsuit claims that the defendants are knowingly contributing to alcohol-related problems on the reservation.

To go, or not to go?

This situation is tragic and there’s no easy solution. While many people want to see the Whiteclay stores close, others know that won’t help the tribe in the long run. “People don’t want Whiteclay to go away,” said Victor Clarke, a citizen of Whiteclay. “The state of Nebraska doesn’t want Whiteclay to go away because it allows problems to be isolated in this one little place. You hear people in the towns around here, saying, ‘We don’t want these guys in our town.’” (2)

Many people may debate whether or not alcohol should be banned on the reservation. Whatever the  answer is, treatment is where the real hope for Pine Ridge stands — and these communities must break out of the alcoholism cycle being passed down throughout the families. What do you think?


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