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Oglala Lakota stop vote on alcohol

Mothers and children take to the streets of Pine Ridge to protest the Oglala Sioux Tribe's proposed legalization of alcohol.

Mothers and children take to the streets of Pine Ridge to protest the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s proposed legalization of alcohol.

PINE RIDGE –– Rain-soaked horseback riders from across the Oglala homelands converged on the Oglala Sioux Tribal (OST) offices in Pine Ridge Village on Monday to protest a referendum election to legalize alcohol on the dry reservation.

The rain did not dampen their resolve or spirit.

“If you do not shut this alcohol referendum down, there’s going to be war,” stated Percy White Plume, to OST President John Yellow Bird Steele.

Jake Yellow Horse and Percy White Plume led a horseback ride to OST Tribal Council offices to protest the proposed legalization of alcohol.

Jake Yellow Horse and Percy White Plume led a horseback ride to OST Tribal Council offices to protest the proposed legalization of alcohol.

White Plume led a delegation of horseback riders over 17 miles cross-country from Oyuhpe Oyanke to the tribal offices to confront the OST Tribal Council that had begun a three-day session on Monday. Jake Yellow Horse led a group of riders from the community of Oglala, where the proposed measure has been sharply criticized.

“Alcohol is and has been killing our people. What would Crazy Horse do for our people?” stated Yellow Horse at the protest in front of the tribal offices.

On this same day, OST Chief Judge Kimberly Craven was presiding over a hearing on an injunction motion brought by traditional headsman and elder Mel Lone Hill to block the referendum election. To a packed courtroom, Judge Craven explained that the Court has no jurisdiction over the Tribal Council and cannot rule against their resolutions or ordinances. Lone Hill’s request was denied.

Meanwhile, as the OST Tribal Council was about to recess for the day, Wounded Knee District Council Representative Collins “CJ” Clifford made a motion to stop the Alcohol Referendum Election. Oglala District Council Representative Floyd Brings Plenty seconded the motion.

Clifford felt moved to speak on behalf of the majority of his district, who oppose the legalization of alcohol.

“We saw great representation today from the oyate. It shows the commitment they have in expressing their opposition to the legalization of alcohol on the rez, plus it brings unity through the spirit of the Horse Nation. I would like to say thank you to all that are in support of fighting the good fight,” added Clifford.

Amongst the riders was grandmother Ramona White Plume, who helps facilitate traditional ceremonies to provide Lakota youth with a spiritual foundation.

“Trauma is the root cause of why our people drink alcohol. We have survived genocidal policies for five centuries. We are in a crisis. People will say we’re not, but we are. We must change our thought processes to ensure that our great, great grandchildren have their identities and ceremonies intact,” stated White Plume.

Of the 18 member council, 14 were present. Nine council representatives voted in favor of the motion to stop the election: Sonia Little Hawk-Weston (Wakpamni District), Marilyn Charging Crow (Eagle Nest District), Collins “CJ” Clifford (Wounded Knee District), Floyd Brings Plenty (Oglala District), Ellen Fills The Pipe (Oglala District), Jackie Siers (Wakpamni District), Blaine Little Thunder (Eagle Nest District), David Pourier (Porcupine District) and James Cross (Pass Creek District).

Four council representatives voted against the motion to stop the election: Ella John Carlow (Pine Ride District), Chauncy Wilson (Medicine Root District), Donn Fire Thunder (LaCreek District), and Craig Dillion (LaCreek District). Patrick Ross (Porcupine District) voted to abstain.

“We, as legislators, spend a majority of our time dealing with social problems, most due to alcohol abuse. I have to be a voice for the children and the generations to come. Legalizing alcohol is not the answer. It’s like encouraging the use of alcohol to make money off our own people who are already fighting this disease,” stated Council Representative Jackie Siers.

For weeks leading up to the election, proponents and opponents of alcohol have expressed their views in the press and on social media. The reservation-based radio station, KILI 90.1 FM Radio and Oglala Lakota College’s KOLC TV, co-hosted a live on-air panel discussion at the Piya Wiconi campus on May 12.

The panel, consisting of Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce President Ivan Sorbel, local businessman /concerned citizen Tally Plume, and former OST Tribal President Bryan Brewer Sr. weighed the pros and cons of legalizing alcohol and fielded questions from radio host Tom “Crash” Casey.

“The notion that alcohol will bring economic development is ridiculous. Nebraska receives a small amount of tax revenue from the roughly four million cans of beer sold in White Clay beer stores. Distributors, not retail outlets, are the ones profiting,” stated Brewer.

Sorbel noted that it would take the Tribe many months to formulate a plan to begin selling alcohol and that his office isn’t prepared.

“I haven’t even seen a feasibility study from the Tribe. There may be some economic benefit, but it (alcohol) certainly would not be the savior of our economic situation,” stated Sorbel.

Council Representative Siers acknowledged that there is no plan in place to support this measure.

“I was concerned about the lack of enforcement of laws and regulatory requirements that come with legalizing alcohol. Today we are unable to enforce current laws put in place, so I know we are nowhere close to regulating alcohol on the reservation,” noted Siers.

Activist Debra White Plume, who has led several non-violent direct actions over the last decade to oppose the legalization of alcohol on the reservation and the sale of alcohol in the tiny border town of White Clay, Neb., was pleased with today’s action.

“The tribal council action today is a temporary victory, won by the Lakota spirit. They may bring it back during the fall general election, but our people are distrustful of the Tribe’s risky and hasty economic development endeavors and policies of reckless spending. I feel that we can work to defeat it again. The alcohol supporters know we will organize to blockade our borders against it so it is better to win this way,” stated White Plume.

(Contact Natalie Hand at

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