Julian Bear Runner serves as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Editorial: To legalize the sale of alcohol on the reservation; that is the question

Oglala Sioux Tribe members will vote in March on whether marijuana should be legalized on the Pine Ridge Reservation and whether alcohol should be served in its casinos.

Voters will answer three separate questions on March 10. Should medical marijuana be available on the reservation and what about recreational marijuana? Also, should alcohol be sold at Prairie Wind Casino and at the East Wind Casino at Martin?

The referendums require a majority of votes to pass and the decisions would be binding, meaning the tribal council must implement them, according to Elections Commission executive Sandra Old Horse.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe owns and operates the Prairie Wind Casino and Hotel in Oglala, South Dakota. Photo: Prairie Wind Casino and Hotel

The question of whether to approve the sale of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation has come up over the years several times. A referendum to legalize the sale of alcohol was approved in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. Each time the initiative was never implemented. This time the vote to approve, if passed, would be legally enforceable.

There has been a longstanding debate on the reservation about the sales of alcohol. The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today supported the sale of alcohol after the first casino was opened at Oelrichs. Folks who gamble usually enjoy a beer or cocktail while gambling and we felt at the time that the casino would draw more customers if alcohol was sold.

There has been a store selling alcohol in Martin for many years. The store is sanctioned by the State of South Dakota and so purchasing alcohol in Martin has never been a problem.

Lakota citizens like Evette Little White Man of Kyle wrote a letter to the Native Sun News Today newspaper last week expressing his opposition to the sale of alcohol or the approval of recreational marijuana. He is vehemently opposed to it simply because he has been a witness to the severe damage both have done to the people of the reservation for many years.

And he is not alone. It all comes down to a disagreement about the sale of alcohol between the traditional Lakota and the more progressive. That has always been the sticking point.


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