September 29th, 2017
The Supreme Court of Nebraska Ruled on beer stores in White Clay, dismissing the case because the beer stores had failed to include “all parties of record” when approaching the District Court for a decision August 30th, 2017, saying they had no jurisdiction over the stores’ appeal, vacating the decision of the district court.
At Camp White Clay Justice the feeling is good, ask anyone. You’ll likely hear “…every day is a good day though.” Here it is another tentative victory, certainly cause to celebrate, but the road to victory on this issue for the people of Pine Ridge, South Dakota is hardly over, the Red Road is long. The village of Pine Ridge has been cut off of this supply just 4 months, having ample supply prior, due to the 3-4 million beer sales per year, and many residents are struggling with the absence of this quick escape from the pain of centuries-long oppression. The whole Reservation has been dry since the 1970’s.
It is true that some south eastern parts of the nation had fermented drink before the arrival of the colonists, but the alcohol content was very low, and the use was restricted to ceremony only. According to some accounts, when the Mayflower arrived in Cape Cod November 9th, 1620 they had 42 tons of beer, and just 14 tons of water aboard. The people who already lived here were not prepared for the influx of alcohol that accompanied the fur trade across the west, and in the plains it is said the drink came with early Christians, following the religious war, working as an important part of cultural genocide. #Priorities
Alcohol is a Form of Biochemical Warfare
The casualties this poison has brought Native people is evidence of systemic warfare. Compared to the spread of other diseases the colonists brought the Americas (including bubonic plague, chickenpox, cholera, the common cold, diphtheria, influenza, malaria, measles, scarlet fever, STDs, typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis and whooping cough). This spread of disease quickly killed 25-50 percent of the Native populations here within a relatively short time frame. The legacy that alcohol has brought the plains Indians has continued to kill millions, with alcohol related problems on the Pine Ridge Reservation, 300% of the national average.
Early myths about firewater insinuate that Native people were genetically different, and inferior to the colonists who’d built some kind of tolerance to it, but the casualties of this weapon hit both sides. The goal of biological/biochemical warfare is to “… conceivably result in large numbers of civilian casualties and cause severe disruption to economic and societal infrastructure.” Such as the delivery of the small pox blankets to Native people by the British during Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-66).
Driving through the non-coastal portions of the United States via highway will lead you past billboards that discourage drinking and driving, encourage people to seek help at local hospitals to save their families from losing loved ones or the violence that often accompanies this addiction, and some offer support phone numbers to deal with the individual struggle. If you venture off to the surface streets almost every little town features a bar or lone liquor store, and a church or two, maybe a school or post office. Colonialism disconnected Indigenous people from their balance of life that comes from living by strong cultural values. Colonists had been disconnected from similar values for generations already, and were driven by singular pursuits for riches, or homelands that were “promised” to them by militarized countries seeking to conquer these lands.
All Parties of Record
Just under the surface of recorded and widely published history, the process of temptation and blame for the sake of profits and social control is visibly embedded, it is the empirical way of life. Eight out of ten families are affected by alcohol in Pine Ridge, and eighty percent of the youth population are likely to experiment with it, making up over a third of the total population. There were 3-4 million drinks circulating the Reservation annually before this prohibition, while a third of the population has no basic water or sewer system, or electricity. There are no billboards announcing this massive human-rights violation. Many people here are left to carry water from the river to their homes to serve basic needs. Those once clean waters are contaminated with farm run-off, fertilizers, and the by-products of commercial mining, including uranium. There are no neon signs pointing to these causes of genocide.
Tuberculosis rates are 800% higher here than the US national average, and cervical cancer occurs 500% as often. Diabetes is 800% higher here, leading to devastating health consequences including blindness, amputation and kidney failure. Though it’s implied by some national studies that the reason teens turn to alcohol at such high rates is due to “low self esteem” it’s evident that there are few ways to cope with the way of life that the colonial-consumer system has left them. Teen suicide here is 150% higher than the national average.
Sobriety is Sovereignty
Addiction cycles are difficult to break, especially with local health services being heavily burdened with the human cost of sustained environmental and social abuse. To have a steady supply of liquid-escape suddenly yanked from the area has left those struggling with addiction a few scary options, or to just stand up and quit. It would be fair to say that is expecting a lot from any human facing these many deadly challenges to living. Some people drive to other towns to satisfy the craving, increasing the rate of alcohol-related driving accidents. Some turn alcohol-based cleaners into a quick solution, winding up in the hospital. Meth production and use has increased according to local accounts. Many people hold hope that this region will adopt the trends of other states who’ve allowed the use of medical cannabis to help break addiction cycles, treat trauma, and assist with chronic pain management. Before the prohibition of it in the US it was used as medicine widely, and treated with ceremonial respect here for millennia.
The court ruling is a step on the road, but the journey is about returning to a values-based way of life. Many of the people at Camp White Clay Justice were at Standing Rock, including some visiting youth. For most people here it was the first time in their lives that they were proud to embrace their culture, and supported in doing so. It was a mark of honor to know the songs, and a great gift to share them. They were able to speak the Lakota language for the first time in public without fearing they would be made fun of. The youth of other tribes share similar accounts in regards to their languages, songs and dances.
The camps share the same policy: No Alcohol, No Drugs. It was against social protocol (to put it lightly) to be intoxicated at Standing Rock, and that helped to hold space for thousands of people to live a sober life for a time, supported by the community that was standing in ceremony for a year against the imposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Though many people struggled with alcohol in the depths of the winter, and after the camps were evacuated, many are seeking that way of life again in other camps, and walking the Red Road in their home cities, with what social support can be offered through new friendships made.
The conflict Camp White Clay Justice stood up against is partly relieved, but the camp stands with gates open to those who want to continue to find that support, and find the way back to living in balance with life, strengthened by these ancient Lakota values.
The camp is seeking someone to continue regularly running the inipi, sweat lodge, a core element of the camp’s spiritual base. If you come, be prepared for arctic winter conditions!
Photos and Article
H. Claire Brown. (2017, September 29). Nebraska Supreme Court rules on Whiteclay beer stores. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://newfoodeconomy.com/breaking-nebraska-supreme-court-rules-whiteclay-beer-stores/
Hanson, P. P. (n.d.). The Early Colonists. Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/timeline/The-Early-Colonists.html
Pine Ridge Statistics, from http://www.4aihf.org/id40.html
Voyage. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2017, from http://mayflowerhistory.com/voyage
Waldman, Carl (2009). Atlas of the North American Indian. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 206.