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Boardwalk Empire, South Dakota Style

A Native American tribe is suing a host of beer brewing companies, including Anheuser-Busch, SAB Miller, and MillerCoors. Why? The BBC reports:

The Oglala Sioux Tribe are asking for $500m (£316m) for healthcare, social services and child rehabilitation.

Tribal elders say the lawsuit is a last resort after efforts to curb abuse through protests and policy failed.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation one in four children suffers foetal disorders caused by alcohol abuse…

Alcohol is outlawed on the reservation and the nearest town which allows alcohol is 20 miles (32km) away…

The lawsuit alleges that beer makers and the shop owners knew the alcohol would be smuggled into the reservation for consumption or resale…

The reservation has grappled with alcohol problems and poverty for generations, and the tribal council has said it hopes the case will help protect the community’s youth.

While in general Via Meadia thinks the trend toward regulation by lawsuit has gone entirely too far, it does seem that somebody should have asked questions when towns with only a few dozen residents were selling millions of cans of beer a year.

Corporations may not have consciences, but the people who work there do — or should. Beer companies and merchants have an obligation to adopt responsible sales practices. Asking “What would Nucky Thompson do?” isn’t enough.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    The lede in the local paper demonstrates how location affects coverage.

    The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is suing the owners of four beer stores in Whiteclay [pop. about 12], plus the beer distributors and manufacturers serving those stores.

    It further notes as you allude:

    The lawsuit alleges the four beer stores sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010, up from 4.3 million cans in 2004.

    This is a very sad situation, but I don’t know that the suit will change much except the parties’ bank balances.

  • Gene

    So PROHIBITION, probably the stupidest social experiment in U.S. history, is being repeated as a solution to whatever alcohol problems exist on this reservation, and you think the story here is the behavior of people in a position to sell alcohol? Sorry, this isn’t high on my outrage list.

  • alex scipio

    How about this?

    Pay them for the damage alcohol has done to Native Americans.

    Then sue them for the damage tobacco has done to everyone else in the world.

    Seems fair to me.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This is a lawsuit without merit and should be thrown out of court. The Beer makers haven’t done anything different there, than they do everywhere, to market their products.
    It’s always convenient to blame others for your own problems, rather than take personal responsibility for your own actions.

  • Bob Clyde

    These Native Americans are victims of the entitlement culture that tells them they don’t have to act responsibly and that the government or whatever will solve any problems they create for themselves. But, the fact is that they don’t have to buy or drink the beer, and the beer drinkers are responsible for what happens to them. The brewers should seek sanctions against the Native Americans and their lawyers for wasting their resources on such frivolity.

  • Mrs. Davis

    And the owners of the four beer stores are without blame?

  • Albert

    Of course the idea that the people who bought those millions of beer cans bear any responsibility for the situation is laughable?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Albert and many others: It’s obvious that the people who buy have a responsibility. And I don’t call for criminal or even civil punishment of those who sell. I merely note that a human being making a living by selling millions of beers to impoverished alcoholics might usefully wonder whether this was in fact God’s plan for his or her life. The law is one thing, personal responsibility is something else. That really was my only point — and I still think it’s a good one.

  • JKB

    So pay them but with the caveat that enshrined in law, never to be negated, that the members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe are functionally incompetent and cannot ever engage society as adults. Cannot enter into contracts, cannot purchase alcohol, tobacco or anything else restricted from minors.

    Either you are an adult or you are a child, choose. If someone else is responsible for your bad decisions, you are a child.

  • Jim.


    Very good point.

    Is there a more effective way of getting that across than putting it on a blog that might not be read by either any of the Oglala Sioux or South Dakotan beverage suppliers?

    Perhaps if you identified the major churches in the area, and got in touch with authority figures in their hierarchy, something might come of it. If this point of conscience were preached from the pulpit every Sunday to the merchants, it would have a decent chance of sinking in.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Have any of you ever been there? Pine Ridge is where hope goes to die. This is a culture that has been utterly destroyed. Imagine your children speaking Chinese with Chinese police patrolling the street arresting anyone using a cell phone. Would you want another Bud?

    Churches? The only thing there is dust and despair. And the Oglala did try to make alcohol illegal on the reservation. But the [persons whom I hold in low esteem] who own the stores in Whiteclay just want their profits, just like the Zetas.

    This sort of thing makes genocide look good. At least the misery ends.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I’ve seen this situation in northern Australia. And Alaska. What I see is that it often proves impossible for indigenous people to live within thier own couture or the modern Western culture than governs thier lives. Even with the best of intentions on both sides it is like two people trying to fit a piece of thier own cultural jig saw puzzle into the other’s. Here we have a desperate attempt by the Oglala Sioux to eject a Western puzzle piece -booze – using another Western puzzle piece -a civil suit. it is futile. With no axe to grind for either, the only things I have observed in Northern Australia to work has been religion and AA. Even though religion can properly be blamed for helping destroy indigenous cultures religion, (and AA) is in a position to provide an alternative spiritual base, unlike government which, by it’s own ethics, must not enter the spiritual arena. Put another way, this is a spiritual problem, not a social problem and from a secular point of view such problems do not exist.

  • Jim.

    I believe that WRM was proposing an appeal to the conscience of the *suppliers* of the booze, so I seconded that motion and suggested a more effective way of carrying it out.

    Honestly, the reservation system is destructive in this age of mobile labor. Young people should dedicate themselves to getting good jobs elsewhere, and just going back to visit a few times a year to visit family and celebrate their heritage.

    I have the same advice to the people of Detroit.

    Leave the land behind. The rest of us had to, when the family farm died. Others have to, as the old industrial model gives up the ghost.

    Hope is a star to follow. Pick up an go.

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