Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Winter 2003


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 2003, pp. 35-53.


Copyright 2003 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Highway 407 in Shannon County South Dakota crosses the Pine Ridge Reservation and, like the reservation, ends at the Nebraska border. When the road turns into Nebraska Highway 87 you enter the unincorporated town of Whiteclay. What also changes, besides the highway numbers, is the legal sale of alcohol. The Ogallala Sioux prohibit alcohol on their land, but this prohibition ends in Whiteclay. Seven liquor stores in this town of 30 residents, all of whom are Anglo-American, sell more than four million cans of beer each year. The two-mile stretch of road between Pine Ridge and Whiteclay is a path of alcohol related fatalities, injuries, and arrests that continue to plague the Ogallala Sioux who live on the reservation.

The federal government of the United States has always viewed alcohol consumption by American Indians as a problem, and one that needed to be solved by government officials. The United States has regulated liquor sales and consumption among Native Americans from the beginning of the republic until 1953. The forms of regulation have included fines and imprisonment for selling alcoQ. ol in Indian country, for introducing alcohol into Indian country, and for drinking alcohol if you were an Indian. Complete prohibition was tried, and continued even after passage of the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing nationwide prohibition.

The various changes to prohibition laws reflected the government's changing Indian policy. When confinement to reservations was the dominant approach taken by the government, prohibition laws regulated liquor on and around the reservation. When allotment and assimilation became most important, the law reflected the changing status of the allottee Indian. National prohibition actually had little effect on Indian prohibition, except that non-Indians were now in the same situation. The New Deal brought in reorganization of tribes, and reflected the continuing desire of Indians for self-government in all areas. The policy of termination finally brought about the end of Indian prohibition. Now individual Indian tribes were allowed to regulate and prohibit alcohol through their own tribal councils, rather than being regulated from afar by the federal government. Many tribes in the Great Plains, like the Ogallala Sioux at Pine Ridge, adopted prohibition policies on the reservations.