OUR VOICE: Pine Ridge alcohol vote a turning point

Farm Forum

We have mixed emotions about the vote to legalize alcohol on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Those living on the reservation have struggled mightily for years against domestic abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide and unemployment.

Giving permission to sell alcohol on Pine Ridge feels like giving up. What problems are there on the reservation that will be lessened by making alcohol easier to get?

But we were struck by a comment from Larry Eagle Bull, one of nine tribal council members who put the issue to a public vote.

“This is a new era we’re in,” Eagle Bull said in an Associated Press story. “We’ve got to remember now we lived dry for 100 years, and it was proven that prohibition didn’t work.”

And when making something illegal doesn’t work, there aren’t many more options after that. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

A deeper look at the issue shows some changing factors that might be a positive for Pine Ridge residents.

Under the law, the Oglala Sioux Tribe will own and operate the stores on the reservation. That can mean jobs and the opportunity for some residents to see firsthand how to own and run a business. Prices can be controlled.

The profits will be used for education and treatment centers. Tribal leaders say there is very little funding for those programs now, and this legalization will give them the resources and cash flow they need.

The American Indian Movement Grassroots organization plans to file an injunction, saying the vote was illegal due to a lack of polling sites, improper notice for tribal members, inadequate training for election workers and other issues.

The bottom line is that a vote was taken, and the majority has spoken, 1,871 to 1,679.

These are adults who should have the right to make their own decisions, to have alcohol available and to consume it.

What will be needed is extremely good oversight. There will be abuses. The disease of alcoholism is likely to get worse for some before it gets better. Legalizing will add a new factor in family dynamics, a temptation that might not have been available previously.

Before the first neon sign gets plugged in, a thorough counseling and treatment center needs to be available. Discussion in the community needs to take place before the first keg is tapped.

And continued measurement of the successes and failures needs to happen.

We hope this is a turning point for Pine Ridge, a turn for the better.