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Alcohol On The Reservation

February 12, 2014, 10:04 PM by Kevin Woster

Alcohol On The Reservation

Stories of alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Reservation often begin in White Clay. The tacky Nebraska hamlet sits just across the South Dakota line two miles from Pine Ridge Village, providing a relentless flow of alcohol to a reservation that is dry only in name and the amount of precipitation it receives each year.

Booze is everywhere, despite a long-standing ban on alcohol sales on the reservation. It comes in from the intimately-situated White Clay, but also more discretely from other nearby towns. Critics say the ban is worthless against alcohol abuse, and also prevents the tribe from sharing in tax and related revenue which now goes off the reservation.

"It's pitiful. We ain't getting nothing, and we're making them rich, I guess," Arthur Ecoffey said.

Oglala tribal member Arthur Ecoffey of Pine Ridge was among those who voted in August to end the alcohol ban.

"I supported it because I think it's time we start living without prohibition. This ain't 1920, anymore," Ecoffey says. "The other tribes have done it."

All other tribes in South Dakota have done it, in fact. So have the majority of tribes across the nation. Prohibition in Indian Country lingered while it ended in the rest of the country in 1933. Oglala's who support an end in prohibition say it's time to join the majority.

"They should. It'll bring more money back to the people, to the tribe," LeForge, a tribal member from Pine Ridge Village said.

LeForge works for Light Shine Pine Ridge, a charitable outreach program with a mild Christian message operating from a storefront in White Clay. He sees every day how much money crosses the line for alcohol.

"Ah, money wise, get it from on the rez, than over here," LeForge said.

Depending how the sale of alcohol is set up and regulated, that money could be helpful to financially-strapped tribal programs.

But those who oppose lifting the ban, fear that it could make a bad situation with alcohol abuse even worse.

Darla Black, an Oglala who works at the tribe's headquarters in Pine Ridge Village, believes allowing alcohol sales on the reservation will be a rejection of traditional ways and spirituality going back to Crazy Horse and the original Chief Red Cloud.

"I think it's critical for our people that we retain our sobriety, that we retain our law against having, legalizing alcohol and drugs," Black says. "I kind of knew this would happen when our Chief Red Cloud passed on."

Oliver Red Cloud, a descendent of the great chief, died in July at 93. Black believes Red Cloud's death allowed more people to vote a month later to end the alcohol ban.

"But I am totally against it, mainly for our younger generations and what's going to happen to our next seven generations, should they legalize it. We have problems now. It's going to be a bigger problem." Black said.

Others critics add that lifting the ban plays into what they believe is non-Native manipulation of tribes through alcohol use.

"We don't have the structure within our tribe or even within our DNA to legalize liquor," Leola One Feather of Wounded Knee said. "It's to me a really bad thing that will happen, and it will kill us."

Those who supported ending the ban doubt that, and look forward to more personal freedom with alcohol.

"I'd like to come to a store here in town and buy a 12-pack of beer and go home and sit in my yard and drink it, without driving two miles and worrying about the cops pulling me over and getting a DUI, and paying a hundred dollars to get out of jail," Ecoffey said.

Tribal officials say they are now working to implement the will of the voters in a way that avoids the dire prediction of opponents.

"If you pass it, people are going to be, everybody's going to be walking around drinking -- no, we'll be drafting ordinances where maybe it's only going to be in the home, not out in public," Tribal Councilman Larry Eagle Bull said.

There are months of that drafting work ahead, as well as the debate which, despite the vote last August, is far from over.

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