Liquid genocide: alcohol destroyed Pine Ridge reservation then they fought back
For years, 11,000 cans of beer a day were poured into the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, causing untold damages. This summer, it finally stopped
Dashing through wild sunflowers and tall grass, Joe Pulliam slid through the barbed-wire fence that marks the state border. With two large wooden tipi poles slung over his shoulder, sweating in the morning sun, he knew it was trespassing. But this was about something bigger.
Behind him, to the south, was the Pine Ridge Indian reservation a vast, 3,500-sq mile rectangle of land at the south-western base of South Dakota, home to 20,000 Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe members and where the sale of alcohol is banned.
In front of him, on the ground he was now striding across, was Whiteclay, Nebraska. The town has no local government and only 14 residents. For over a century, its primary purpose has been to sell alcohol to the reservations residents. Four million cans of beer left the stores here each year 11,000 a day. Activists have long argued it has decimated the tribe.
This summer marked the first time that the four liquor stores in Whiteclay had stopped selling. In April, after a history of lawlessness and a recent spate of unsolved murders, the Nebraska state liquor commission voted to temporarily revoke all four licenses.
On this day, as the last days of a long, humid summer had started to evaporate, the states supreme court would hear arguments on whether to make the closures permanent. As Pulliam and a group of six other Lakota men went about planting the poles in the ground, wrapping rope around the apex, they wanted to make a lasting statement.
This tipi rising here represents the end of that oppression, the end of that colonialism, he said, regaining his breath. Whiteclay was the destruction.
Im hoping that Nebraska can look at themselves and their Christian ways and ask themselves: will they continue to profit off our peoples addiction?
On Friday, the Nebraska supreme court ruled unanimously to keep Whiteclays liquor stores closed.
Addiction is endemic here. Up to two-thirds of adults live with alcoholism. One in four children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Life expectancy is just 66.8 years. Fueled by poverty and addiction the unemployment rate hovers around 80% the suicide rate is over four times the national average.
During dozens of interviews during a week spent on the reservation, every single person who spoke to the Guardian said they had either battled addiction themselves or had a family member who had.
Whiteclay had become the focal point of the tribes attempts to target abuse head on. Its closure, even if it turned out to be temporary, marked a victory for campaigners who have pushed for years to see the liquor stores gone.
But already many here, just as on other Indian reservations in America, are coming to terms with a struggle that will get even harder in an era of federal budget cuts and austerity. The Trump administration has already made clear its intention to roll back federal funds, a move likely to have a devastating effect on people here, who rely on grant money to keep many basic public programs in operation.