'But we don't do that at Whiteclay': Health equity and social justice on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

printer friendlyprinter friendly

The numbers are eye-catching: A town of 11 people sold 4.9 million cans of beer in one year. But the story of the Oglala Sioux tribe's recent lawsuit against the country's largest brewers is about more than a startling statistic. It's another chapter in the tumultuous history of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (the setting of the 1973 Wounded Knee Incident and the shootout that lead to the arrest of Native American activist Leonard Peltier), which is again the site of tension between United States and Native authority. It's yet another shameful example, too long ignored by the media, of how companies target communities of color for the sale of harmful products -- in this case, alcohol. And it's the story of the most highly publicized event in more than 10 years of a community's efforts to combat this exploitation.

Last Thursday the Reservation's Oglala Sioux tribe filed a lawsuit against beer manufacturers, distributors and retailers, who they claim have knowingly promoted alcohol abuse on the Reservation, where alcohol is illegal. The tribe is seeking half a million dollars in damages to offset the social and health costs of growing alcoholism -- estimated at $8-9 million dollars a year.

The suit targets four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, a small community that sits at the border of the reservation. Although Whiteclay is home to only about a dozen residents, its position near Pine Ridge has made it easy for vendors to sell alcohol to tribe members, who then smuggle beer onto the reservation. In 2010 alone, the four vendors collectively sold 4.9 million cans of beer -- approximately 250 beers for each of the 20,000 people living on the reservation. The suit alleges that beer manufacturers oversupplied the stores, pressuring them to maximize beer sales and sell "volumes of beer far in excess of an amount that could be sold in compliance with the laws of the state of Nebraska."

The lawsuit has attracted considerable attention, but it's only the most recent development in the debate over Whiteclay, whose history the media have scarcely reported. The independent documentary The Battle for Whiteclay, released in 2008, is one of the few records of the more than 10 years of activism on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The film documents the struggles of activists like Frank La Mere, a member of the Winnebago tribe, who has spent years fighting for Whiteclay to be closed.

La Mere says the long-term failure of alcohol regulation at Whiteclay is an issue of health equity and social justice that would never be allowed in the predominantly white communities in other parts of Nebraska. "It is the nature of law enforcement … that you deal with illegality fairly wherever you can," La Mere said. "But we don't do that at Whiteclay … there's two classes of citizens here, in this state … would we allow the things [that happen] in Whiteclay in West Omaha or South East Lake? I don't think so! … God forbid that one young white woman, white man die at Whiteclay tonight -- we'd shut the damn things down in the morning."

Public health advocates who seek to promote just alcohol regulation on the Pine Ridge Reservation should continue to monitor how the story evolves, and particularly how the brewers respond. Though the Whiteclay lawsuit may fall out of the news cycle within a few days or weeks, the exploitation of the Oglala will not end until beer manufacturers and sellers are held accountable by the government, the community, and the media for their years of "exporting misery to Pine Ridge."

View our other coverage on health equity at Pine Ridge:

New York Times coverage of alcohol lawsuit lets major brewers off the hook

NYT exposes alcohol industry efforts to stall important health legislation

NYT's Kristof calls for Bud boycott, decries brewer's greed


paper tigers (1) media advocacy (23) community organizing (1) childhood trauma (3) sexism (2) violence (2) choice (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) ACEs (2) alcohol (5) junk food marketing to kids (2) Joe Paterno (1) auto safety (1) cosmetics (1) online marketing (1) election 2016 (1) Wendy Davis (1) Newtown (1) tobacco industry (2) Sam Kass (1) tobacco tax (1) structural racism (1) El Monte (3) public health data (1) soda warning labels (1) water (1) paula deen (1) personal responsibility (3) women's health (2) Michelle Obama (1) genital warts (1) media (7) prison phone calls (1) Berkeley (2) cervical cancer (1) racism (1) corporate social responsibility (1) Telluride (1) Twitter (1) SB 1000 (1) autism (1) Connecticut shooting (1) default frame (1) Richmond (5) news coverage (1) diabetes prevention (1) McDonald's (1) soda taxes (2) cancer research (1) Jerry Sandusky (3) stigma (1) Happy Meals (1) breastfeeding (3) community safety (1) food deserts (1) gender (1) food swamps (1) media analysis (6) marketing (1) sexual violence (2) Black Lives Matter (1) naacp (1) privilege (1) framing (14) SB 402 (1) health care (1) childhood lead poisoning (1) Texas (1) Nickelodeon (1) Catholic church (1) tobacco (5) obesity prevention (1) media bites (1) physical activity (1) beauty products (1) cancer prevention (1) journalism (1) communication strategy (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) collaboration (1) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) front groups (1) new year's resolutions (1) safety (1) public health (70) Marion Nestle (1) institutional accountability (1) campaign finance (1) sugary drinks (10) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) government intrusion (1) food environment (1) Sandy Hook (2) Chile (1) public health policy (2) adverse childhood experiences (3) nanny state (2) measure N (2) social justice (2) Aurora (1) social change (1) target marketing (8) democracy (1) suicide prevention (2) food industry (4) beverage industry (2) world water day (1) cap the tap (1) Penn State (3) emergency contraception (1) sports drinks (1) Whiteclay (4) Big Tobacco (3) news monitoring (1) suicide nets (1) Bill Cosby (1) reproductive justice (1) authentic voices (1) political correctness (1) Coca-Cola (3) Dora the Explorer (1) snap (1) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) digital marketing (2) violence prevention (8) food (1) strategic communication (1) vaccines (1) SB-5 (1) Amanda Fallin (1) seat belt laws (1) Citizens United (1) built environment (2) food access (1) values (1) cigarette advertising (1) social math (1) gun control (2) news (2) mental health (2) community violence (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) news strategy (1) childhood obesity (1) junk food marketing (4) environmental health (1) inequities (1) childhood adversity (1) Big Food (2) advocacy (3) obesity (10) messaging (3) weight of the nation (1) community health (1) regulation (2) healthy eating (1) Gardasil (1) Golden Gate Bridge (2) American Beverage Association (1) San Francisco (3) soda tax (11) liana winett (1) junk food (2) filibuster (1) abortion (1) Let's Move (1) cannes lions festival (1) Colorado (1) food marketing (4) Rachel Grana (1) FCC (1) childhood obestiy conference (1) Proposition 47 (1) communication (2) equity (3) prevention (1) gatorade bolt game (1) industry appeals to choice (1) ssb (1) Bloomberg (3) nonprofit communications (1) water security (1) education (1) suicide barrier (2) social media (2) food justice (1) child sexual abuse (5) Donald Trump (2) chronic disease (2) Tea Party (1) race (1) Oakland Unified School District (1) health equity (10) tobacco control (2) sanitation (1) community (1) diabetes (1) product safety (1) indoor smoking ban (1) soda (12) Merck (1) gun violence (1) language (6) food and beverage marketing (3) children's health (3) Oglala Sioux (3) white house (1) youth (1) SSBs (1) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) prison system (1) sandusky (2) apha (3) Big Soda (2) HPV vaccine (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) sexual health (1) george lakoff (1) elephant triggers (1) Measure O (1) california (1) news analysis (3) summer camps (1) PepsiCo (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) sexual assault (1) Proposition 29 (1) soda industry (4)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: