Alcohol abuse among Native Americans has lead to many woes for these tribal nations. Many tribes have banned alcohol on their reservations, but there is much controversy over what is best for these people.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, on the border between South Dakota and Nebraska, has been wrestling with their alcohol ban for decades. This reservation was created in 1889, but the prohibition of alcohol sales to American Indians dates back to 1832. Even though it has been an alcohol free reservation since its origin, the tribe has a huge alcohol problem. Four out of every five families in this county have an alcoholic member, and the alcoholism has severe effects here. Unemployment is at 80%, it is the second poorest county in the nation, and life expectancy is the second lowest in the whole Northern Hemisphere. 90% of adult trials on this reservation are directly related to alcohol. Police are swamped with enforcing the alcohol ban and dealing with the mess of those that break the law.
In Support of Alcohol Ban
Many people support the ban, and past attempts to legalize alcohol here have failed. These people say the violence, crime, and suicides would only increase if alcohol were legal. They are afraid of the consequences that more accessible alcohol would have on this tribe.
But the problem is that the ban is not working, and these tribe members are finding alcohol their own way. Actually, alcohol is still readily available, just across the border in Nebraska. Local establishments in that state make huge profits from all the business they get from the neighboring reservation. Tribe members travel the short distance to buy alcohol, binge drink, then drive back home. Many of the residents of Pine Ridge are not just alcohol abusers, they are dangerously addicted to the substance. Emergency responders are accustomed to separating their regular offenders by the breathalyzer results: anyone over .450 goes to the hospital for much needed medical treatment, anyone lower than that goes to jail.
Opposed to the Ban
People who want to see the ban lifted argue that many of these people drink because of the excitement of using a forbidden substance. They say lifting the ban would decrease binge drinking and drunken driving. It would also allow law enforcement to focus on things other than illegal alcohol sales and drinking.
The last argument from those that want to do away with the ban is that if the tribe could sell alcohol, they could also gain the profits of those sales. Not only would that put money back into their own workers’ pockets, but some could be used by the nation to provide treatment and help for those addicted to alcohol. The way things are now, this American Indian tribe has little resources to treat their own, and meanwhile, all their unemployed citizens are pumping money into another state’s economy.