LINCOLN, Neb. — An American Indian tribe sued some of the world’s largest beer makers Thursday, claiming they knowingly contributed to devastating alcohol-related problems on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota said it is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, which encompasses some of the nation’s most impoverished counties.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska also targets four beer stores in Whiteclay, a Nebraska town near the reservation’s border that, despite having only about a dozen residents, sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010.
Tribal leaders and activists blame the Whiteclay businesses for chronic alcohol abuse and bootlegging on the Pine Ridge reservation, where all alcohol is banned. They say most of the stores’ customers come from the reservation, which spans southwest South Dakota and dips into Nebraska.
“You cannot sell 4.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we’ve got nothing to do with it being smuggled,” said Tom White, the tribe’s Omaha-based attorney.
Owners of the four beer stores in Whiteclay were unavailable or declined comment Thursday when contacted by The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide said she was not yet aware of the lawsuit, and the other four companies being sued — SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company, MillerCoors LLC and Pabst Brewing Company — did not immediately return messages.