Lyle Jacobs: Oglala Sioux Tribe can benefit from alcohol sales

The following opinion by Lyle Jacobs appears in the latest issue of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Give change a chance
By Lyle Jacobs

Alcohol is a touchy subject on the Pine Ridge rez, and for good reason. Who has lived on the rez and hasn’t been affected by alcohol at some point in their life? So when the tribe recently voted 9-7 to allow the people to decide if alcohol should be legalized on the reservation, it naturally sparked a lot of discussion.

People have taken stances on both sides of the issue. I, for one, am by no means a fan of alcohol. I have seen what it can to do to families, friendships, and relationships. However, I do feel that legalizing alcohol can be the first step on the road to getting our tribe’s economy on the path to success, if done right.

Alcoholism affects eight out of ten families on the reservation. The death rate from alcohol related problems is 300% higher than the national average. Even with alcohol illegal on the rez, it is still having a huge impact on our people. Obviously, there is a great risk in legalizing alcohol.

Many people have expressed their opinions on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter talking about the potential problems legalization will have; however, these are problems are already rampant on the reservation. The tribal police and court system must show from the beginning that they are taking a no-nonsense approach to alcohol and enforce even harsher penalties for alcohol-related crimes.

People may argue that legalizing alcohol is “not in our ways” or that “this is not something our elders would approve of.” Well, is the current state of our people as a whole something our elders would approve of? Is mass poverty and sexual abuse part of our ways? Would Chief Red Cloud be proud of our tribe’s current economy, or the negative media coverage our reservation has been getting recently? Would those who came before us be proud of all the third-worldesque statistics that exist here?

Why not use profits made from selling alcohol to cut down on these sad statistics? This could be the first move toward not just fixing our economy, but all aspects of our daily lives. Put funds toward our education system to cut down on the 70% drop out rate on the reservation. Open rehabilitation and treatment centers for those who have abused alcohol. Put funds into creating local businesses run by our people for our people. This could even be a first step toward true sovereignty, if the revenue gained from sales of alcohol opens the gates for other tribal ventures to start-up and thrive.

Legalizing alcohol is not something that should be done right away, or even in the near future. Such a significant change to our way of life needs to be treated with utmost attention to detail. If the tribe votes yes to legalizing (as I argue they should), they need to put a solid plan into place before making it effective. A well-crafted plan that highlights the potential benefits, that acknowledges potential negatives and establishes methods of combating them. This whole process needs to be tremendously well thought out. A definitive plan of action needs to be in place before alcohol is legalized.

There is a sign that sits in Whiteclay that reads, “Their children prosper while our children suffer,” serving as a sort of rallying cry for the “takedown” of Whiteclay. With the revenue that the tribe can create by distributing alcohol on the reservation, our tribe too can prosper, creating a better future and providing more hope for the children of our reservation.

By voting no, our tribe will stay in its current state – do you really want to continue living like this as a people, as a community? Obviously, current ways are not working, and it is time for change, a change that will give the next generation a better life than the generations before it.

By voting yes to legalizing alcohol and by smartly implementing a system that regulates the sale and use of alcohol amongst our people, we can move one step closer to a better future for tomorrow’s generation. By voting no and keeping alcohol illegal on the reservation…well, we’ve seen how effective that strategy has been.

So the choice now rests in our hands: we, the people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. We can legalize and regulate alcohol in an effort to bolster not only our tribe’s laughably bad economy, but all aspects of our lives: our education, our healthcare or we can keep things the same, and continue to give Whiteclay, Nebraska five million dollars a year. Our people want change for the next generation? Then give this change a chance.

Lyle Jacobs is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a graduate of Red Cloud High School he is currently enrolled at Duke University in Durham, NC where he is majoring in Mass Communications and can be reached at facebook.com/iamnotlylejacobs

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