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Pine Ridge Officials Propose Legalizing Alcohol

October 9, 2012, 10:01 PM by Derek Olson

Pine Ridge Officials Propose Legalizing Alcohol
PINE RIDGE, SD -

Some tribal officials are proposing changes that would legalize the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Last week, a federal judge dismissed the Oglala Sioux Tribe's lawsuit against alcohol distributors. The case has since been opened in Nebraska.

It may be against the law but drinking is still a wide spread problem on the reservation and much of the alcohol comes from just two miles away in Whiteclay, Nebraska.

"People want to drink alcohol and they're going to go to the places where they can buy it and this isn't the only place they can buy it.  They can buy it in Rapid City and bring it down.  They can buy it at the Boondocks and bring it in," Oglala Sioux Tribal Law and Order Committee Coordinator Bruce Whalen said.

"No matter what, we're going to get alcohol wherever they sell it, you know?" Pine Ridge resident Jeff Big Crow Sr. said.

Now, there's a new proposal that could end prohibition on the reservation.

Bruce Whalen works with the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Law and Order Committee, the group behind the proposal.  Though normally restricted from talking with media, Whalen took the day off and is speaking out.

"My position is I think we need to let the people have a chance to vote on it to see," Whalen said.

The proposal would first need to be approved by the tribal council; then it could get a public vote.  Supporters say legalizing alcohol would stop millions of dollars from leaving the reservation every year.

"I think it would be good if they legalized alcohol on the reservation because the money will stay inside the tribe instead of Nebraska getting these guys rich," Big Crow Sr. said.

"It would be nice to be able to have that revenue generated here and then have some of that revenue allocated for positive things," Whalen said.

Detox and treatment facilities, as well as prevention programs for youth could be funded through money generated from alcohol sales.

Now, supporters are just waiting on the tribal council to weigh in.

"It's an individual decision and I think that the individual needs to have the opportunity to vote," Whalen said.

KELOLAND News did talk with a tribal council member who is against the proposal but didn't want to go on camera.  He believes that the issue should be handled separately on each of the reservation's nine-districts.

If approved by the council, it could be more than a year before a public vote is held.

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