It is widely known that most of us Americans are guilty of possessing stolen property. Europeans, by means of disease, deception and brute force have driven Native American people from their land and attempted to erase their tribal identity in the name of Manifest Destiny, “progress” or simply “the west is best” ideology for hundreds of years. Perhaps not so widely known is that after centuries of these atrocities, this struggle continues for countless Native Americans. Often, Indian reservations are exceptionally rural; many of the homes have no power, there are very few jobs, teen suicide, teacher turnover and dropout rates are through the roof and medical care is nearly nonexistent. Over the centuries, one of the most popular methods for duping the indigenous person was to get them drunk and apparently it still is.
Anyone who has been to an impoverished area that's wet (legal alcohol) might have noticed a lot of liquor stores. Supply follows demand; the more deplorable conditions are, the more there is a demand for an escape like alcohol. Furthermore, liquor stores are often established a stone’s throw from dry county borders. Legal or not, this is a predatory practice that often goes unnoticed in big cities but on Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Pine Ridge is dry; neighboring Whiteclay, Nebraska is a tiny town of 12 residence and 4 liquor stores which sell an average of 13,000 cans of beers a day. The overwhelming majority of this alcohol ends up on Pine Ridge or consumed by its residence.
Probably best known for being the site of the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, “Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and is one of the poorest places in the country, according to 2010 census data.”(Williams). The majority of crimes committed there are alcohol related and one in four children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related disorder. Many Sioux (and other Indian) children are erroneously taken from their families each year by state run/for profit facilities who deem their families unfit to raise them. In direct disregard to national law in these cases, most of these children are placed with non-native American families, even though there are plenty of stable Indian families who are willing and able to accommodate them. These acts generate revenue for the state, perpetuate assimilation or “the removal of the Indian from the Indian” and the alcohol industry rakes in the dough.
So here we have it. The process of assimilation persists well into the 21st century. Recently the Oglala Sioux filed a federal lawsuit against Whiteclay stores and major American alcohol distributors, but these parties are operating well within the “law” so sadly, I don’t see much coming from it. Without mainstream coverage and support, no one of note takes them seriously. Back in 2007, representatives of the Lakota Freedom Delegation cancelled all treaties with the United States. They renounced their U.S. citizenship and declared sovereignty. Ashahed M. Muhammad reported back in 2008, “The geographic area making up what will be called the Republic of Lakota covers portions of northern Nebraska, half of South Dakota, one-quarter of North Dakota, 20 percent of Montana and 20 percent of Wyoming.” Five years later, the map has not changed.