of South Dakota is suing vendors in the tiny town of Whiteclay, just over the border in the state of Nebraska, and is also demanding £322 million in damages from some of the world’s largest brewing companies.
A village of less than a dozen people, which has four off licences selling the equivalent of 4.9 million cans of beer a year, has been accused of contributing to chronic alcoholism on a nearby Native American reservation.
By Nick Allen, Los Angeles5:44PM GMT 10 Feb 2012
The tribe lives on the Pine Ridge reservation, a 3,500 square mile area which has an estimated population of between 28,000 and 40,000, and includes the site of the Battle of Wounded Knee.
It is one of the poorest places in the United States with 80 per cent unemployment and an average estimated life expectancy of between 45 and 52, the shortest in mainland North America.
Alcohol has been illegal on the reservation since 1832 but is readily available in Whiteclay, which is just 200ft from the edge of Pine Ridge.
Tom White, a lawyer for the tribe, said: “This is a town of 11 people. Where do 4.9 million cans of beer go? The Oglala Sioux Tribe seeks compensation for all of the damages suffered as a result of illegal alcohol sales.
“The defendants have failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the state of Nebraska and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.”
Mark Vasina, president of a community group Nebraskans for Peace, said the alcohol sales in Whiteclay amounted to 13,000 12-ounce cans of beer a day.
He said: “Much of the beer is bootlegged onto the Pine Ridge for resale.” According to local people two of the most popular drinks on the reservation are Hurricane malt liquor and and Evil Eye malt liquor.
The tribe claims one in four children born on the reservation suffer from mental or physical birth defects associated with mothers drinking during pregnancy, and wants damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation.
It claims brewers supplied the liquor stores with “volumes of beer far in excess of an amount that could be sold in compliance with the laws of the state of Nebraska” and the tribe.
The case, which is being pursued in a court in Nebraska, names the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser. Also named are major brewers SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company, MillerCoors and Pabst Brewing Company.
The reservation has struggled with alcoholism and poverty for generations. Alcohol was briefly legalised in 1970 but the ban was reinstalled two months later. An attempt to lift the ban in 2004 failed after a public outcry.
Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the tribe, said: “We can now begin to address the terrible harm caused by Whiteclay alcohol sales.