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Contentions remain after alcohol vote on Pine Ridge Rez
Thursday, September 05 2013
 
Written by Alfred Walking Bull,
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Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted on Aug. 13 to end the reservation’s 124 year-old alcohol prohibition. The vote was in response to the alcohol sales from the Nebraska border town of Whiteclay, where the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission estimates the equivalent of 162,000 cases of beer were sold last year. While the results were not immediately known, the final count showed 1,871 tribal citizens voted in favor of the legalization of alcohol with 1,679 against.

While the majority of Oglala citizens voted to allow alcohol, anti-legalization activists feared the worst. “Our culture was coming back strong and they brought in this colonization,” said Alex White Plume. “We’ll have to wait and see what the council is going to do because it was a non-binding vote. It’s damaging our culture and our traditions will slowly change for the worse.”
 
One of White Plume’s main concerns was the immediacy with which the vote was brought before tribal voters. “I think it was that it came out of the blue, there was no clear cut plan … it wasn’t planned right. It was really fast and no one really knew about it until the day of the vote.”
For Oglala Rep. Larry Eagle Bull (Pine Ridge District), the issue had been a long time in coming. “The alcohol issue was brought up in our Law and Order Committee. We had a lot of people coming in who need help, but we have no services here.”
He was among those on the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council that supported the legalization of alcohol. His reasoning was based in the exercise of democracy. “It was an important issue that I wanted the people to make that decision, not me personally. The people have a say in it.”

Additionally, Eagle Bull felt the future benefits outweigh the costs. “We can use the revenue to get a detox and treatment center up and running. The people that want help don’t want to travel, they don’t want to go far away, they want to be here.” He said that plans for any future alcohol treatment facility would be mindful of cultural standards. “It’ll be incorporated, it’ll be run by Lakota who have a degree in social service and counseling. If you go to treatment on the outside, the white man tells you how to heal yourself. We’ll have traditional and non-traditional, that will be set up in that plan.”

The tribal council is now tasked with determining how to regulate the alcohol. Except for a short period in the 1970s, the reservation has been dry since its creation in 1889. Despite the legal ban, bootleggers and the Nebraska town of Whiteclay, NE have supplied the reservation’s inhabitants with alcohol, something that Eagle Bull reiterated.

“Alcohol is here, it’s here right now as we speak. Nothing is going to change, except it will be legal.” He continued to address the concerns of the anti-alcohol activists, “The issues they have is what they’ve had for the last 100 years. The issues they have on it, they should have brought it up a long time ago. They only came out when we proposed the alcohol legalization. I would like to see how they would fund treatment centers, how they would fund to help people.”

The endgame for the council is to be able to monopolize the distribution and sales. A proposed draft ordinance was released before the Aug. 13 vote that included a plan to develop a new tribal government department to provide infrastructure for the eventual liquor stores.

Addressing concerns about rampant abuse in the future, Eagle Bull said, “I see it as, when it turns legal and everything turns out, you'll see a spike in people buying it. Just like any store in Rapid (City) that opens up. There’s a newness period; it will be just like a grocery store, you’ll see it and people will go in or they won’t.”
 
White Plume contends that the vote is not the end of the conversation.
 
Before he returned to his role as an activist, he was the eyapaha (spokesperson) for the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, a grassroots organization based on the Pine Ridge reservation that seeks to restore traditional ways of life, language and government among the Oglala.  

White Plume believed the move was orchestrated to circumvent any objection the organization would have had. “This alcohol issue shouldn’t have come at this time, we need to focus on Keystone XL and fracking, the tiospaye’s (extended family) purpose is to protect our water. Whoever strategized against us was smart. We don’t want to fight our own people, but when they make dumb decisions like this, we need to act.” He said the treaty council would soon be making a formal opposition to the legalization.
In the meantime, the tribal government is now examining the steps to regulating alcohol distribution, sales as well as jurisdictional issues. On that issue, both sides agree.

White Plume was concerned that South Dakota would have joint jurisdiction on the reservation to respond to what he believed would be increased violence and alcohol-related injuries. “If it’s regulated, are we going to allow state jurisdiction? All of that sovereignty is going to be gone now.”

Eagle Bull said the tribe would remain autonomous. “We have to put our own (ordinances) in place, the only ones we have to work with is the state – they will have no jurisdiction – we’ll pay some taxes on the alcohol to them is all.”

As the situation continues to be sorted out, Eagle Bull said he welcomes more debate but remains steadfast on the election results. “It’s their right to do that too, it’s democracy in action. The people spoke, they’re the ones who spoke. Our election commission handled it. They had so many days after the election to file (an objection), as far as I know, and no one filed any improprieties on our election.”

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