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Oglala Sioux Tribe sues Whiteclay stores, beer makers, distributors

Oglala Sioux Tribe sues Whiteclay stores, beer makers, distributors

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Norman Pipe On Head breaks down cases of beer to make six packs at the Arrowhead Inn liquor store in Whiteclay on Friday, June 11, 2010. In 2009, according to the Nebraska Liquor Commission, the four liquor stores in Whiteclay sold 4.6 million cans of beer. (Kristina Barker/Journal staff)

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is suing the owners of four beer stores in Whiteclay, plus the beer distributors and manufacturers serving those stores.

The tribe's lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska, lists more than a dozen defendants, including beer manufacturers Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. The 10-page lawsuit alleges the beer distributors and manufacturers knowingly provided alcohol to the four beer stores, which, in turn, sold alcohol to residents of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.

It alleges the defendants violated the tribe's alcohol ban as well as Nebraska law by providing alcohol to the reservation's residents, knowing those residents would transport the alcohol into the reservation and resell much of that beer to other reservation residents.

The lawsuit also alleges the owners of the four beer stores sold alcohol to intoxicated people and accepted sex, pornographic photos and food assistance vouchers in exchange for beer.

"Alcohol is a devastating drug to the Lakota people," the lawsuit states. "The vast majority of beer consumed in the town of Pine Ridge and the (reservation) is sold in Whiteclay establishments."

Tribal representatives and members of Nebraskans for Peace, which has long urged shutting down the beer stores in Whiteclay, planned to hold a 1 p.m. news conference Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda to discuss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the four beer stores sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010, up from 4.3 million cans in 2004. The tribe is seeking monetary compensation "for all damages it has suffered in the past and is reasonably likely to suffer in the future caused by the actions of the defendants and as established at trial."

"The (tribe) does not have the resources to properly address families which have been torn apart by alcohol," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit cites numerous statistics regarding the impact of the sale of alcohol at Whiteclay on reservation residents, including: one in four children being born with either fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; an average reservation life expectancy of between 45 and 52 years; and a teen suicide rate that is 150 percent higher than the American average.

"The devastating and horrible effects of alcohol on the (Oglala Sioux Tribe) and the Lakota people cannot be overstated," the lawsuit states.


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