In a public referendum vote on Wednesday, August 14, tribal members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation voted to overturn the ban of alcohol with a vote of 1,843 in favor and 1,678 against. OST President Bryan Brewer has confirmed these results with Indian Country Today Media Network.
However, Brewer says that though the tribal members of the OST have stated their stance with a majority in favor of lifting the ban, the vote is not binding. The matter on whether or not to lift the ban is in the hands of the tribal council. Brewer says he expects the measure to pass in favor of lifting the ban.
Though Brewer says the matter of allowing alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation is a difficult one, he will support the decisions of his people and the vote of the tribal council. “If the council decides to do it, and I think they probably will, then we will start the process of legalizing alcohol on the reservation.”
“I find this entire matter troubling," said Brewer, “and, fighting alcohol problems with the proceeds of selling alcohol are like, fighting firewater with firewater.”
If the measure passes, Brewer says the tribe’s next step would be to apply for liquor licenses through the County Commission and the State, bring matters up to code to sell the alcohol as well as find a place to sell it.
Additionally says Brewer, “The casino will have to have a separate liquor license according to the state. We will have to get two licenses for off sale and on-site sales. There are a lot of little things we have to work out.”
In a previous interview with James “Toby” Big Boy, Chairman of the Oglala Sioux’s Law and Order Committee, it’s not about alcohol problems as much as it is about taking down Whiteclay, a town that sits at the Reservation’s border and sells millions of dollars of alcohol to tribal members annually.
“The way I feel, we as a tribe understand the cultural meanings behind allowing alcohol, but you've got to understand the advantages to this. Today, White Clay is taking advantage of our people. To benefit our people we need to regain this revenue for ourselves,” said Big Boy.
Big Boy also said there could be several locations on the reservation that might sell alcohol to include Eagle Nest District, Medicine Root and Pine Ridge. Alcohol sales would be regulated by a tribal alcohol commission which would be created by the tribal council.
Though those opposed to lifting the ban might cite an increase in alcohol consumption, increased alcoholism and increased crime, Big Boy says there are other matters to consider on the positive side of the equation when allowing alcohol.
“You can get arrested here for having an open container and get booked into the jail. Then you are released with a court date and you have to come back for that court date. If you remove this from the system,” says Big Boy, “that is a lot of time and effort taken away. Possession is a big difference in crime than say, a violent act. This is less of a strain on our police force.”
“Rosebud legalized alcohol and it has been a success. They now have a huge, nice grocery store which they built off the revenue of alcohol. The alcohol sales at their casino are controlled in a pleasant and social environment. The folks here at the Prairie Wind Casino agree with me, they just aren't making it. I believe selling alcohol would help to increase the revenue. Other tribal casinos that serve alcohol have tremendous revenues,” said Big Boy previously.
Brewer says there would also be less problems involved for tribal members that have to travel long ways to obtain alcohol and agreed there is a strain on the police force for matters that are not as dire. “A lot of people buy alcohol that have to drive 100 miles round-trip to get it. A lot of our people are just arrested for possession.”
Big Boy says he is looking forward to the affect such a decision would make on the town of Whiteclay and the proprietors that sell alcohol to OST residents. “One or two of the establishments will close, one of them might stay open but people will still buy it from them. But there will be a nice big dent into them. We don't need to go over there and burn it down; we just need to shut it down.”
According to Brewer, “As much as this is difficult, we have to make the best of it.”