Sunday, May 06, 2012

Indigenous Peoples: An Addendum

When I posted yesterday about the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples' rights and his assessment of the state of Native Americans, I hadn't seen Nicholas Kristof's column on the Oglala Sioux lawsuit against Anheuser Busch.  Kristof writes of the Sioux reservation, "Pine Ridge encompasses one of the poorest counties in the entire United States—Shannon County, S.D.—and life expectancy is about the same as in Afghanistan. As many as two-thirds of adults there may be alcoholics, and one-quarter of children are born suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders." 

Alcohol is banned on the Pine Ridge reservation, where tribal sovereignty makes such a ban possible, but Whiteclay, Nebraska, a town of ten people just outside the reservation, has become a major distribution point for alcoholic beverages that are carried onto the reservation in violation of the ban.  Attorneys for Anheuser Busch and others have argued that the focus should be on individual responsibility, but this overlooks the fact that alcoholism is a disease and that tribal leaders on the Pine Ridge reservation are trying to deal with a public health disaster.

For more on the situation, see this recent article in the Washington Post.