The Washington Post

Pine Ridge Indian reservation: Tribe sues beer makers for alcohol problems

Alcohol is illegal at Pine Ridge Indian reservation under tribal law. It has been since1832.

And yet the reservation suffers from chronic alcoholism, with one in four of its children born with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, according to a new lawsuit from one of Pine Ridge’s tribes.

A shipment of the beer “Hurricane,” manufactured by Anheuser-Busch, is unloaded in Whiteclay, Neb. (Aaron Huey)

The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is suing some of the world’s largest beer-makers for knowingly shipping thousands of cases of beer to stores on the border of the reservation, knowing it would be smuggled in, the Associated Press reports.

The tribe wants $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation on the reservation.

The case is largely centered around the tiny town of Whiteclay, Neb., located right along the border of Pine Ridge.

Whiteclay has 14 residents and four beer stores. According to “A Battle for Whiteclay,” an activist film seeking to stop the sale of liquor in the area, those stores sell the equivalent of more than 11,000 beers a day.

Tribal officials in the lawsuit state that in 2010, 5 million cans were not drunk in Whiteclay, but smuggled into the reservation to drink or resell, with “devastating effects on the Lakota people, especially its children, both born and unborn.”

Photographer Aaron Huey, who has spent much of his recent career documenting the Pine Ridge Reservation, says he has watched beer distributors unload thousands of cans a day in Whiteclay.

Two of the most prevalent brands of beer sold in the town, he says, are Hurricane malt liquor, made by Anheuser-Busch, and Evil Eye malt liquor, made by Coors.

A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch, one of five beer companies named in the suit, did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Post.

“You and I never see [those beers]. They are sold in places like Whiteclay,” says Huey. “The people selling alcohol [there]… are getting rich off of the economic and psychological depression of the reservation.”

In a TED talk he gave in 2010, Huey talks about some of the other problems he’s witnessed at Pine Ridge, which he says America has been content to largely ignore:

Read more about Huey’s work at Pine Ridge at the site Honor The Treaties,


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