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Pine Ridge stays dry

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - A very contentious and emotional issue, alcohol sales on the Pine Ridge Reservation will have to wait for another time.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council by a 10 to 2 vote defeated a measure that would have allowed the sale of alcohol on Pine Ridge. Pine Ridge is the only reservation in the state that does not allow alcohol sales.

The financially-beleaguered reservation needs cash flow and some supporters of legalizing alcohol saw it as a way to bring in revenue. At the same time the revenue could be used to support chemical treatment programs, supporters said.

Opponents argued that alcoholism is bad enough, and that selling alcohol on the reservation would only double or quadruple the problem.

"Overspending by the council is the problem. Take a look and control this. Where is the money going? We see people who need help and alcohol is hurting more people, people will suffer for this," said Roger Bird, tribal member.

Eileen Janis, tribal finance coordinator and supporter of a resolution that would have let the people decide, said the money would go to help law enforcement and treatment programs.

As it is now, nearly 4 million cans of beer are sold in White Clay, Neb., two miles south of Pine Ridge Village.

"We've been through the tragedy, it's here. White Clay is making money. There were two deaths and our cops didn't have the equipment to do an investigation; the problem is here already.

"I see people staggering on the streets, kids doing without, the problem is here and there are so many needs," Janis said.

But the opponents counter with the argument that other ways of attracting money exist. And there is a treatment program on the reservation and other organizations on the reservation.

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Lyle Jack, council member, and supporter of the resolution to allow the people to decide said it wasn't that people were in support of alcohol, but were tired of watching people in White Clay benefit from the people's suffering. Jack represents Pine Ridge District, located next to White Clay.

Councilman Emmett Kelly, Wounded Knee District also voted for the ordinance. He said he wanted the people to decide. Wounded Knee District voted to oppose the resolution. He made a point during the discussion at the Feb. 17 council meeting, that the point of the resolution wasn't alcohol since bootleggers work 24-hours a day in his district. The issue was to provide a revenue stream by taxing the alcohol so that treatment programs could be funded.

Janis told a radio audience on KILI radio and at the council meeting that basketball players are invited to out-of-state tournaments they can't attend because of the lack of revenue.

The opponents of the resolution emotionally invoked the memory of their ancestors who were against alcohol and said people on Pine Ridge, in order to live a healthy, spiritual life must reject alcohol.

"We see people passed out now in Pine Ridge. What would happen if we legalized alcohol, I can't imagine," said Jeff Matthews on a radio broadcast on KILI radio.

"A hundred years have gone by and we are still trying to legalize alcohol. We can't handle it. We have so many health issues our people are facing.

"We should hold ourselves up higher than the dominant society," he said.

The past two months of discussion on legalizing alcohol is not the first time the debate was taken up by the council and the reservation.

It began in 1964 when a council vote of 23 for and five against alcohol took place. In 1968 a liquor control ordinance was passed legalizing the sale and distribution of alcohol within the boundaries of the reservation. That ordinance was amended to tax the sale of alcohol. In 1970 the ordinance was rescinded, after a new administration took office.

In 1983 a referendum vote on alcohol sale was soundly defeated by the people.