The Oglala Sioux tribe filed a $500 million lawsuit February 9 against brewers (Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, Pabst, Miller Brewers), retailers and distributors of alcohol sold in Whiteclay, Nebraska. The lawsuit was announced by Tom White, former Nebraska State Senator and attorney for the Oglala Sioux, at a news conference hosted by the Nebraskans for Peace organization.
The lawsuit claims the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which sits less than 250 feet from the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation and sells nearly five million cans of beer annually, is responsible for the massive amounts of alcohol consumed as well as the collateral damages caused to Pine Ridge.
According to White, “Whiteclay is a sore on the face of Nebraska and the whole culture is drowning in alcohol.”
White made clear that the case is not about rewarding individuals that drink alcohol with money to be won in a lawsuit. White said the suit was a civil suit and that the Oglala Sioux Tribe desired damages awarded would go to assisting the tribe in creating programs benefitting neonatal care, children affected by alcoholism, treatment centers for alcoholism and other secondary causes currently absorbed by the tribe.
“No individual who has decided to drink alcohol will get a nickel out of this,” White said. “It is not about them it is about the law-abiding and lawful authority of the Oglala Nation that is being dumped on with all these huge expensive problems. It is about getting the resources from the people who profited from this in an attempt to address the damage.”
Myron Pourier, Fifth Member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe also expressed his thoughts to ICTMN.
“We have zero tolerance for this. We are a dry reservation. We are going to have to do something that is going to benefit our people in terms of rehabilitation. Close to $12 million a year goes to that Whiteclay area – of almost five million cans of beer a year. None of that goes back into our Indian reservation,” he said.
“Those parasites are sucking off of us,” Pourier said. “It is frustrating.”
Nebraskans for Peace President Mark Vasina, has been following the progress of Whiteclay since the late 90s and created a documentary entitled “The Battle for Whiteclay,” which featured Indian activists Frank LaMere, Duane Martin Sr., and Russell Means.
Vasina has seen problems with Whiteclay for years and alleges many problems are caused by a town with a population of just 11 residents. Vasina reports that in addition to millions of cans of beer that are sold, there are also instances of trading beer for intercourse, food stamp debit cards and selling to minors.
Vasina also alleges some stores could possibly be acting as distributors. “We also know that bootleggers come after hours and buy cases of beer, they take them back to the reservation and sell them. That is illegal in Nebraska because it is a form of distribution. It is illegal for a retail store to act as a distributor,” Vasina said.
Attorney Tom White says such alleged and questionable activity may or may not be happening, but such activities are not what the case is about.
“This case is to show that this volume of alcohol sold to a reservation just destroys it and debases it. This case is real simple. Everyone from Anheuser-Busch on down knows that 4.9 million 12 ounce servings of beer sold in a town of 11 people with no other population around except a dry reservation knows that there is no way that that amount of alcohol could be lawfully consumed,” White said.
“It is not lawfully consumed and possessed in accordance with Nebraska law and it is not being lawfully consumed and possessed in accordance with the laws of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. They are helping people to violate the law and it is causing staggering damages. This is about the collateral damage done to all the people around the drinkers. The drinkers do not get a nickel,” he said.
An Anheuser-Busch InBev spokesperson said they cannot comment at this time.