The Oyate (Part II of “Alcohol: A tool of oppression against Native Americans”)

Published October 9, 2002
HOCAK WORAK: Newsletter of the Ho-Chunk Nation

“I know what this life is,” stated 30-year-old Clifton Red Feather who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. When asked what life he speaks of, Clifton stated, “the life of alcoholism and poverty. Alcoholism is the main factor that effects my oyate, but we still stick together.”

The common factor that is shared by many of the those that go to White Clay and even those that do not go there is that there is nothing for the people to do on the reservation. The lack of jobs, and transportation to seek jobs in turn leads to people turning to alcohol in order to pass time. The Oglala people, like many Natives have suffered a long history of abuse by the government, accounting for them having little to no faith in the government.

A belief of some of the people is that the white man saw alcohol as a tool to control Native Americans from resisting change brought on by the influx of non-natives to their lands many years ago. The storeowners feel that if the Oglala people want the alcohol abuse to go away, all they need to do is not patronize their businesses and the stores would close. Sounds simple, but as the Oglala know, abstaining from alcohol use with the current social issue of high unemployment is a tough goal to reach. A question not unanswered is, if the storeowners truly care about the Oglala people like they claim to do, why than, has there been no attempt by the storeowners to contribute funds helping the Oglala address the alcohol problem?

Red Feather stated, “Right here in White Clay, they would rather have us die, and kill each other ya know? A lot of us hate the white man but, but we don’t fight it, not right here we don’t. Look how far it is (only two miles), we come up here to buy alcohol. Sometimes we fight each other, but the white man will always bring that upon my people. They think that we are all weak to alcohol, and most of us are weak to alcohol, but we still take care of each other.”

Every year the storeowners are making millions of dollars and almost all of those revenues are coming from Oglala people. There is also the issue of closing down White Clay, that the people talk about, but Oglala tribal member Cathy Afraid of Bear stated, “If it wasn’t for us these people would not be making any money, they wouldn’t have anything, they make millions off us and don’t give anything back. Where will we go to get our alcohol to drink if they shut White Clay down?” That is a question that many people are asking themselves. Some have said that they will have to go further in order to get their alcohol, which they fear will lead to more deaths. It was said that other towns surrounding the reservation would become the new White Clay’s.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is a dry reservation, meaning that bringing alcohol and/or consuming alcohol within its boundaries is illegal. White Clay, just two short miles from Pine Ridge, is seen as an easy access for tribal members to obtain alcohol. Some people with vehicles will drive to White Clay, purchase the alcohol and bring it back onto the reservation. For those that are unable to make it to White Clay, there are bootleggers who buy the alcohol and transport it on to the reservation for resale.

People are concerned about their safety. There are constant allegations of assaults and batteries to the Oglala people that drink at White Clay by the people that own the stores or those that work there. There are also allegations of sex being traded for alcohol. It is alleged that one of the storeowners selling alcohol has a “wall of shame”, photos put up of women that have traded sex for alcohol and who were abused in the process. These are some of the ways the Oglala people feel they are being oppressed by alcohol sales in White Clay.

In talking with some that drink in White Clay, even those who feel oppressed by the continued sale of alcohol, the people speak with pride about who they are and where they come from. While acknowledging that it is up to each individual to overcome their problem with alcohol, the Oyate see no end to the alcohol abuse until it is made less available and there is a massive increase of resources to help them (i.e. jobs, better alcohol & drug programs).

In part three, of this article series, we will hear from Frank LaMere (Winnebago) who is a key player on the political aspect of alcohol sales in White Clay and a supporter of Camp Justice located on the Nebraska / South Dakota border.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply