Lloyd Waters: American Indians are still under siege

April 15, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

The American Indian has never been the same since the white man landed on the shores of this continent many moons ago.

Even today they continue to experience those pains of yesterday.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation located in the southern part of South Dakota near the Nebraska border, this community is home to some 30,000 Oglala Sioux. The reservation marks the spot of the Wounded Knee massacre where the 7th Calvary killed an estimated 300 men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux tribe in the last great Indian assault by the U.S. military.

Dewey Beard (“Iron Hail”), an Indian survivor of that massacre, was one of the models used for the Indian head pictured on the nickel that was minted by this country.

Today, those Sioux ancestors who live on the reservation are experiencing an 80 percent unemployment rate; 49 percent live below the poverty level; they have a life expectancy of 48 years; and half of the residents over 40 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Many families do not have electricity, running water, access to a sewer system or other modern commodities.

Even a greater tragedy is the presence of alcoholism among many members who live on the reservation. It is estimated that one in four children is born with fetal-alcohol syndrome.

A more interesting point in regard to the alcohol problem is that the reservation has actually banned the sale of alcohol since 1832.

Why then is alcoholism such a big problem? This is where the story becomes interesting.

Just across the border in the small town of Whiteclay, Neb., there is a community unlike many others in our country. It even puts Dargan to shame in regard to size.

The town of Whiteclay, had a 2000 census population of just 14 people. Remember that number as you continue to read.

From those 14 residents of the Whiteclay community, there is a grand total of seven households and three families.

Now you wouldn’t expect this little town to have much notoriety, would you? Let’s take a closer look.

In 2010, there were four liquor stores located within those town limits of Whiteclay.

Four liquor stores in a town of 14 people must be some sort of record, huh?

Even more surprising is that these four liquor stores, in 2010, sold 4.9 million 12 ounce cans of beer.

Since public drinking in Whiteclay is unlawful, and alcohol is banned on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I wonder what exactly is happening to all the beer.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, those Indians living in the impoverished conditions on the reservation are still drinking to the hospitality of the white man.

Neither the citizens of Whiteclay, the government of Nebraska, or even the U.S. government seems to be overly bothered by the circumstances of those who live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I wonder why?

It was estimated that federal and state sales taxes for alcohol purchases in this little community totaled some $414,000.

Why isn’t something being done to help remedy the problem on the reservation?

Well, it seems that some of the local beer distributors also take some of their alcohol profits, and make some generous contributions to those running for political office in Nebraska.

Can’t expect a politician taking money in one hand to be overly concerned about a little problem on an Indian reservation, now can we?

Out of desperation, and perhaps survival of the Oglala Sioux, this tribe has recently filed a $500 million lawsuit against several major beer manufacturers, because of those conditions at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Will the Sioux nation be successful in its endeavor to eliminate the illegal sale of alcohol to the Indians and eliminate those related social problems of alcoholism on the reservation?

History has not yet been very kind to the Indians. No use thinking the future will be any different.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.





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