SD Reservation on Edge After Legalizing Booze

Police chief fears surge in violence

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 15, 2013 2:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – A South Dakota reservation that's been dry almost since its founding has voted to allow the possession and sale of alcohol on its grounds, a move that runs counter to traditional federal rules. The decision has Oglala Sioux tribe members deeply divided—so divided that ballots had to be counted in a secure location, the New York Times reports. The vote came to 1,843 backing alcohol legalization and 1,678 seeking to uphold the ban. Those supporting legalization say it will bring in money tribe members already spend on alcohol from outside the reservation; those opposed cite years of booze-related tragedy.

Alcohol smuggled onto the Pine Ridge reservation has torn apart families and fueled poverty, crime, and accidents, the Times notes. Unemployment currently stands at about 80%. Pine Ridge's police chief himself drank heavily until age 31 and lost two daughters to drunk-driving incidents. He says legalization would mean his force wouldn't have to spend so much time taking care of alcohol possession and inebriation reports—but he says violent crime will likely soar, a particular problem when 37 officers are overseeing an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island. Click for the full piece.

In this Aug. 8, 2013 photo, a sign stands outside Whiteclay, Neb., urging Pine Ridge Indian Reservation residents to oppose the legalization of alcohol sales.
In this Aug. 8, 2013 photo, a sign stands outside Whiteclay, Neb., urging Pine Ridge Indian Reservation residents to oppose the legalization of alcohol sales.   (AP Photo/Carson Walker)
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