US & Canada

South Dakota's Oglala Sioux Tribe legalises alcohol

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Media captionThe BBC visited the the Oglala Sioux tribe last year

A South Dakota Native American tribe ravaged by alcohol abuse has voted to end prohibition, which critics say will only worsen the reservation's problems.

In the final result, 1,871 tribe members voted in favour of legalisation and 1,679 against.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe must now apply to the county and state for a permit.

Under the law, the tribe will own and operate stores on the reservation, and profits will be used for education and detoxification and treatment centres.

Their Pine Ridge Indian Reservation legalised alcohol in the 1970s, but restored the ban two months later.

An attempt to lift prohibition in 2004 also failed.

'A new era'

Alcohol abuse among the Oglala Sioux is blamed for some of the highest rates of domestic abuse, suicide, infant mortality and unemployment on Indian reservations.

Four stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, two miles south of Pine Ridge, currently sell millions of cans of beer a year to tribe members.

Both sides in the debate would like to see those stores go out of business.

The tribe sued beer stores and manufacturers last year for $500m (£309m), blaming them for the reservation's social problems, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Larry Eagle Bull, himself a reformed alcoholic, was one of nine tribal council members who put the issue to a public vote.

He told the Associated Press news agency: "This is a new era we're in. We've got to remember now we lived dry for 100 years and it was proven that prohibition didn't work. We're in new territory now."

The final result was announced by the chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Election Commission, Francis Pumpkin Seed.

The outcome of Tuesday's vote had been delayed by hundreds of disputed ballots.

Bryan Brewer, a tribal president who opposed legalisation, said he would abide by the result and work to implement the law.

"We know the use will go up," he said. "We know there'll be more violence.

"There'll be more women and children who will be abused. It will taper off. But it's something we're just going to have to deal with."

The measure calls for a new department and a full-time director to administer and enforce the law.

Federal law bans the sale of alcohol on Native American reservations unless the tribal council allows it.

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