The Suing Sioux: Tribe Sues Top Beer Makers For Contributing To Alcoholism Of Tribe Members

While the Sioux tribe in North Dakota is fighting the use of “Fighting Sioux,” the Suing Sioux of South Dakota are in federal court with a rather novel (and in my view thoroughly frivolous) lawsuit of their own. The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is suing the largest beer makers for contributing to the corruption and abuse of members of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by supplying alcohol through local stores. The tribe is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation.


The lawsuit in Nebraska references four beer stores in Whiteclay, a Nebraska town near the reservation’s border. The town only has about a dozen residents but reportedly sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010. Either the residents have the world’s biggest beer guts or they are making huge profits by selling alcohol to the local indians. The town lies less than 250 feet from the reservation border.

However, beer sales are perfectly legal and these indian customers are adults who have a right to purchase alcoholic beverages — and the citizens of Whiteclay have a right to sell the beer so long as they have the required permits. Notably, as this picture represents, taverns have existed in Whiteclay (or Pine Ridge) for many decades. (This is from the 1940s)

Tom White, the tribe’s Omaha-based attorney, “[y]ou 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.” Actually, you can. It is called retail sales. The question is not whether the lawsuit will succeed but whether it could generate sanctions. The legislature has thus far declined to impose limitations on beer sales around the reservation. Absent such measures (which could be challenged in court), there is a conspicuous absence of legal authority to support such a claim. The tribe is offering policy arguments that are quite compelling but they are inviting a court to function as a super legislature in the imposition of such liability.

It is certainly true that state law prohibits drinking outside the stores and the nearest town that allows alcohol is over 20 miles south (alcohol sales are banned on the reservation). However, the tribe would be best served by taking up the matter with tribe members rather than suggesting that stores should not be able to sell beer to indians.

None of this questions the good-faith goals of the tribe, only its means. One in four children on the reservation reportedly suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and the average life expectancy is estimated between 45 and 52 years.

The state is considering a ban or limitation on beer sales in Whiteclay — though I would question the constitutionality of such a law in designating certain areas to be “alcohol impact zones.”

The complaint is long on narrative and short on legal authority or claims. This is the sole claim:

PERSONS ACTING IN CONCERT
43. Plaintiff restates each and every previous allegation in support of this Cause of Action as if fully set forth herein.
44. As part of a common enterprise, the Defendants and each of them, have knowingly acted in concert to manufacture, distribute and sell beer through the Whiteclay retail outlets in amounts that cannot be legally sold, consumed or possessed under the laws of the State of Nebraska and the OST.
45. The Defendants and each of them, know or should know that the Retail Defendants’ conduct in the sale of the vast amount beer which is smuggled into and resold in the Reservation is in breach of their duties under the law of the State of Nebraska and the OST.
46. The Defendants and each of them give substantial assistance and encouragement to the Retail Defendants by supplying and transporting 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 OST. The Defendants and each of them, also give further substantial assistance and encouragement to the Retail Defendants through advertisements, marketing materials, and other business accommodations to promote the consumption of beer in the PRIR.
47. The Defendants and each of them have the duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the State of Nebraska and the OST. The Defendants and each of them have breached that duty by cooperating and engaging in a common enterprise which is focused on assisting and participating in the illegal sale of alcohol.
48. The Defendants and each of them have thereby caused the OST to suffer massive
damages in an amount yet to be determined.

The claim of working in concert reflects the common purpose of selling a legal product.

Here is the complaint: Sioux Suit
Among the defendants are Jason J. Schwarting who runs the Arrowhead Inn in Whiteclay; Stuart J. Kozal who runs the Jumping Eagle Inn and Clay M. Brehmer and Daniel J. Brehmer who run the State Line Liquor in Whiteclay.

Here are the corporate defendants:

Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide, Inc.
SAB Miller d/b/a Miller Brewing Company
Molson Coors Brewing Company
Miller Coors, LLC
Pabst Brewing Company
Pivo, Inc. d/b/a High Plains Budweiser
Dietrich Distributing Co., Inc.
Arrowhead Distributing, Inc.
Coors Distributing of West Nebraska d/b/a Coors of West Nebraska
Jason Schwarting d/b/a Arrowhead Inn, Inc.
Sanford Holdings, LLC d/b/a D&S Pioneer Service
Stuart Kozal d/b/a/ Jumping Eagle Inn
Clay Brehmer and Daniel Brehmer d/b/a State Line Liquor

Source: SF Gate

100 thoughts on “The Suing Sioux: Tribe Sues Top Beer Makers For Contributing To Alcoholism Of Tribe Members”

  1. There was some interesting news out of the Pine Ridge reservation yesterday and this seemed the only place to put this information for any who are interested.

    Two large trucks with oversize loads were blocked for six hours by Oglala Lakota activists on the Pine Ridge Reservation roads yesterday hauling either (accounts conflict) large storage containers for drinking water, or, “‘treater vessel[s]‘ which are used to separate gas and oil and other elements,” presumably to the Keystone XL pipeline site in Alberta, Canada.

    Apparently, the trucks were licensed to Totran Transportation Services, and in attempting to save a $50,000 dollar fee per truck to use state roads the drivers tried to cut through the reservation and were blocked by Oglala activists and escorted out of the reservation by state troopers.

    Totran Transportation refused to comment and a TransCanada spokesperson (Keystone) stated that the trucks were not asociated with them.

    A couple more links in the next post.

  2. I respect the culture ands the need to keep it, as I do for all cultures. But, from my admittedly little knowledge of the tribal communities, in holding themselves separate from the rest of the country it appears they have ‘ghettoized’ themselves – as would be true if say the Africa American community put itself apart in Watts or South Bronx and said I do not care what is available for me to have a better life outside of my cultural community. It is more important to hold myself apart. That kind of thinking says to me that there is a fear the culture will be lost if you do partake of the rthe rest of the world. I do not believe the native Americanculture is that fragile.
    And to say ” Why won’t a multi-million dollar beer company just give that money to our relatives on Pine Ridge who are so in need?” $500 million could build modest homes on the entire reservation and allow for the land to be partially restored so that it can begin to produce food again.” is just another way of saying let’s steal from one group, as it were – a corp being a group (andnota person(!) ) and giving it to another. That makes no sense either. That treats the Indian culture and people as children who have to rely on hand outs.

  3. Liz,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the bulk of this thread is, “blatantly ignorant and racist.”

    Given this though, I do think there are some posts in this thread by regular commenters on this blog (Blouise, lottakaz, Frankly, and Oro Lee) that exhibit an appreciation of the perspective offered in your comment.

    Of my own comment in this thread you might have missed the sarcasm of the first paragraphs as the writing was directed at a specific commenter.

    I agree with your comment as posted. I only ask that you read all comments carefully so as not to brand all with your misunderstanding.

  4. WOW!!!! This article is so blatantly ignorant and racist that I am floored! And the absolute misconception and misinformation of the commenters is baffling! I can’t believe anyone would so openly express their apathy and rejection of a culture. Do you also look at black americans in housing projects and shake your head about them “killing themselves,” after centuries of ongoing oppression?

    Putting alcohol so readily available in a place where alcoholism is rampant and the people live (right here in the US) like citizens of a 3rd world country is irresponsible, unethical and evil. To say, “Join our f’d up culture or go ahead and kill yourselves,” is no better than the raping and murdering that went on in Pine Ridge not so long ago. To deny that it was genocide is to contribute to the massacre.

    The Lakota people may live in abject poverty, but they do not have the spiritual poverty that is expressed here. In the Lakota way, we are all responsible for each other. There is no “I” and every action we make has a ripple affect to everything around us, Everything is sacred. There was a system of transparency and accountability that kept this arrogant and separatist kind of thinking at bay. Everyone was taken care of by everyone else, and all were made responsible.

    THAT is the biggest thing that was stolen, not just from the indigenous people all over the world, but from all of us that are affected so much by this compartmentalized, disconnected “white” thinking. When we non-indians learn to truly grieve, for our ancestors and theirs, we will begin to make progess collectively.

    Jonathan Turley, I would have liked your inquiry to be, “Why aren’t we all helping the people of Pine Ridge to have the resources they need? Why won’t a multi-million dollar beer company just give that money to our relatives on Pine Ridge who are so in need?” $500 million could build modest homes on the entire reservation and allow for the land to be partially restored so that it can begin to produce food again.

    There are a very few people left who have stayed true to the original way of life, so as not to be corrupted within themselves, and thereby preserve the wisdom teachings for others. People like you should get down on your knees, bend your head LOW and BEG the elders of Pine Ridge for their forgiveness and for their teachings, so that you can WAKE UP soon. I sincerely hope some Lakota life is breathed into your cold, dead heart. You are truly what is wrong with this world and this country, the quintessential apathetic capitalist white man. May the Universe have mercy on your soul and anyone who agrees with this horsesh*t you’ve written. Grow up, cure your OWN alcoholism or whatever in you needs to drink alcohol at all, have some compassion and take care of your fellow man. Won’t you feel silly when you wake up and realize it was YOU who was asleep all this time.

  5. So…

    Does anyone know if the Native American Indians are granted special immunity from loan sharking laws?

    1. Bob,

      If I recall… the Feds gave them the ability to do what was necessary to survive…. To answer your question the way they do business is not much different than Cash Express or Ace etc…..

  6. Carol Levy,

    Well to that personal issue, he was the experienced police officer. A young white male giving him the eye rang some bell. Drug dealer? Sexual deviant? Terrorist (weren’t any Aaaarabs then). He never specified. Only loitering was mentioned. But as an employed person on my free Saturday, a former active Army officer, and with a high personal ego—–I was outraged.
    But then most folks did feel they were above suspicion in those days.

    And I think, having seen one too many police docs, that there are neighborhoods where shopping for the night’s substances from out of neighborhood visitors is cause for suspicion. But countering it in this manner seems contrary to requirement of reasonable cause for suspicion for action. As I thought so in my case in !965.

    Summarizing the situation is difficult. But there are folks who do it for various employers, both agencies and privately. Í’m just a reader of the news, by those who seem reliable, like Greenwald on Salon.

    Thanks, am listening for more and hope to meet again.

  7. Ideal707 Thank you for this conversation
    .
    It is interesting that in Camden NJ they announced last week that ” Police are warning people whose cars turn up in video of drug hot spots. telling owners their vehicles were seen in a high-crime area and that criminal or traffic charges may be filed if an investigation bears out.

    Ninety percent of the letters were sent to suburbanites.

    Police Chief Scott Thomson tells The Philadelphia Inquirer it’s good police work flagging people who would have been stopped by police in person if there were enough officers.

    Some civil rights experts say the tactic is troubling and could get people in trouble just for being in the wrong place.” http://www.northjersey.com/news/crime_courts/Camden_police_warning_those_seen_at_drug_spots.html

    This reminds me of your McArthur Park situation example. (and yep one would then wonder about homosexuals, etc , any group that was considered “bad”.) You get warned in a letter that probably goes in your ‘permanent record’ when all you have done is be in the ‘wrong place’, according to the authorities.

    The blocked list you say “generally consists of those who essentially are homeless and on public welfare totally and continuously year round. ” I would have concerns that maybe this group was being targeted. If they get the money, somehow or from passersby should they not be able to buy a bottle of alcohol? It is the same to me as the decision to give them a dollar knowing it may be spent on drugs or liquor. I decide to give it but it is up to the person to decide how they spend it.

    I assume you are not in the US. To prove age here for liquor you need to show your ID, usually a drivers license, when you look too young (for cigarettes too) but we have no national number. For med care it used to not be necessary. Now a lot of docs are doing it because of worries about insurance fraud.

    ‘If you’re having a big party, getting a JP certificate is not necessary; just don’t go around to several stores buying large quantities frequently.’

    You dont need permission here either and it makes sense that something else may be going on, although unless you can prove illegality, there is no cause to stop someone from repeated large purchases.

    I am not a lawyer either.

    You still usually need good grounds to stop someone here (absent some racial profiling that is sometimes practiced – wrongly). I do not think you can body search absent a warrant/exceedingly good cause. (That is probably more for the folks on the indefinite detention post page).

    My wheelchair analogy was probaby one too many (:
    We do have some major streets with cyling lanes but, to my knowledge that tends to be in the bigger cities. I lve in a suburb where we have sidewalks, but sometimes not. I used to live right off a major street, within walking distance of a high school. Despite the horrendous traffic there were no sidewalks. It was every man for himself (herself)

  8. Gene, I knew there was one ):

    Idealist707 I cannot show you otherwise although I think AA and OE would disagree.

    Not selling to intoxicated folk I thought was on the books in many places.

    A list of names from social service agencies would violate, possibly, HIPPA.

    (I reread and see you say ‘social authorities”. If you are arrested but not prosecuted, or just stopped for intoxication but let go I would think that would be a rights violation. Do we really want a scarlet A for those whom the authorities decide have a ‘drinking problem?’ It is not up to the state to decide who is an alcoholic/who should have their ability to buy liquor curtailed. A Megan’s list for alcoholics/problem drinkers does not pass the smell test to me.

    You cannot sell large quantities so folks who are having a very big gathering could not buy it because alcholics might misuse is unfair to the majority of folk who can handle it.

    As a person with chronic intractable pain I see first hand what happens to those of us who need (and of course no one needs alcohol but I think the analogy is still apt) opiods but the misuse of them by abusers has made it much more difficult for us to get the meds our doctors want us to have. (Some pain management docs have their patients sign ‘opiod contracts’ that include random urine testing to check for abuse, for patients who have never shown they are abusers.) We used to be able to get new prescriptions, depending on the drug, once a year. Now it is as little as twice a year and for some once a month. This causes people who have pain just getting up in the moning, walking, even tying their shoes having to exacerbate their pain by having to go more often to the doctor’s office (forget the additional health costs from extra visits, up ins. premiums etc to compensate – a diff. discussiion for another day).

    Whether an additiion, an issue of lack of self restraint, or even a physical/biogical/neurological cause it is not fair to the majority who can handle it. We put cutouts in the sidewaks so those who are in wheelchairs can get on the sidewalk; we do not make everyone else walk in proscribed single lanes so the wheelchair has the main access.

    1. Carol Levy,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. My analogy between here and there would require more facts from both of us to do justice to the many problems, some of which you exemplified by your own situation. For that also, thanks.

      Where and how to go from the general to the personal. Generalities skip the sticky details as any honest bureaucrat knows.

      The details to get on the blocked list is unknown to me, but rest assured it is a long process preceded by medical treatment, repeat convictions for public drunkenness (uncommon in a tolerant place), and generally consists of those who essentially are homeless and on public welfare totally and continuously year round. Oh, they get their wine bottle or strong beer from their buddies.

      As for interfering with those who can handle it, to be asked for your photo id with your national idnumber to be checked is routine here, even when getting medical care, etc. It is seldom done except for obvious alcoholics and for the young.
      If you’re having a big party, getting a JP certificate is not necessary; just don’t go around to several stores buying large quantities frequently.

      As for protection from unreasonable suspicion and listing, etc.

      I’ll give a personal example from near McArthur Park in LA in 1963, where my new employer had arranged a room in a facility predominantly occupied by poor retirees. Stopping at a red light at a pedestrian crossing, my gaze wandered over to the two police standing in the crossing. One caught the gaze, went over and asked what I was doing. I mentioned the hamburger place where I planned to eat, a block away. He advised me that he was reporting me for loitering or some such “offense”; and advised me that if I was reported two times more then the DA would hear of himself to me. I called the DA and protested that I lived in the neighborhood, and was out on a legitimate errand, to no avail.

      How is it today in McCarthur Park district? Does the (then) presence of homosexuals (?) in the restrooms cause profiling of passersby, even those who live there and can prove it? Fortunately I found a better place and moved; but not before broadening my horizons with seeing Hannukah preparations in the stores, etc.

      It would seem from what I see from here, that there are many more other grounds for stopping, etc, and body searches for reasons of imminent danger, etc. TODAY in America.
      But then, I’m not a lawyer, you tell me.

      As for accommodation of the handicapped I can’t compare. But will say that our surburbs have sidewalks; and our city of over 1 million has cycle lanes which allow going from one end to the other without dangerous mixing.

      Do you have these?

  9. Carol Levy,

    Where I live the folks have over many years had trouble with alcoholism.
    Some retail restraints are necessary here.
    For example a clear one of not selling to people intoxicated, or put on a blocking list by the social authorities for alcoholism.

    Also sales of large quantities, which stops folks from setting up a service boutique for alcoholics in their apartment (teepee?).

    Putting it out of range doesn’t help in modern times. People here will take special chartered busses over the border and buy in large quantities, in the hopes of getting by customs.

    Just something you might think about. Self-restraint does not even work for those afflicted (and I mean truly afflicted) by obesity. Much less substance abuse. Show me otherwise if you like.

  10. “Isn;t one of the negative stereotypes that an ‘Indian” will cheat you?”

    Yep. That’s where the (repugnant) term “Indian giver” comes from.

  11. Gene, Another part of the ‘you cant be serious’ was when the one I now see repeatedly is with the fellow who looks of Native American ancestry and has very long hair, kind of a sign to the rest of us, sometimes, “I am Native American Indian”
    The first I saw had a very pretty woman, also apparently Indian heritage but thght saw another with someone who looked like plain white folk, but now I only have seen this last fellow. I wondered if it was from an Indian run business or was there some form of positive racism in the commercial, something that you would get a good deal from them (esp because they were being hoinest upfront about the fees – I can sometimes be ridiculously naive), but now the irony hits me. Isn;t one of the negative stereotypes that an ‘Indian” will cheat you?
    Just truly horrendous no matter how you interpret it.

  12. “I learn new things regularly, I often find the things I learn conflict with things I knew before so I have to check sources, examine prejudices and think through the process of coming to new knowledge.”

    That’s one of the things I dig about you, Frankly, and that is the very essence of critical thought.

  13. carol,

    I’d like to join in by echoing your sentiments of surprise. That commercial not only struck me when I first saw it, but I’ve had several conversations with family and friends who had the same reaction. In fact, the conversation I had with my dad started with him saying, “I though usury was illegal, but have you seen the commercial . . .”

  14. I’m glad I am not the only one whose mouth fell open when I first saw that ad about the money lender (and part of my surprise was the statement sure it costs a lot”

    This suit reminds me of what was said on the post replies about the contraceptive mandate: Have it available in the insurance and for those
    who do not believe in using it or do not want it, do not get the pills. You don’t want to drink the beer do not buy it but do you have the right to say you cannot sell it? The way to get them out is to not buy the beer, they lose the profit and stop selling it.
    I am not a lawyer so may miss a lot of the nuances about this litigation but on its face it seems the way to fix this is through action, not the court.

    When I hear of the severe problem of alcoholism (as well as unemployment and poverty) on the tribal lands I always wonder why are they not themselves willing to work with the government and, while maintaining their lands, also become a part of the bigger society so there are more opportuniuties: jobs, more alcoholism, social services etc.

  15. More views.

    Prejudices are a part of you. Why should you attack yourself. (many of us do, but that’s often for other reasons). They are like a hand; an accepted part, a part self-evident and thus true, as the reality of a chair.

    With therapeutic help, you can come to the point that you detect such prejudices. One such which is common and leads to condemning victims and even just ordinary folks is as follows. It is a point of view which results in your examining all phenomena looking for something to criticize, essentially morally downgrading the person or phenomena. An obviously sick personal situation, but an illustration of what is difficult to detect in yourself.
    Such is the nature of prejudices, ie opinions, which make them difficult to attack.

    Expressed assetively, but other opinions than mine are welcome.

  16. Frankly,

    Judging from my person, it could be a case of suspended development, which can be due to causes which place subconcious barriers to normal development. In my case, as I have written here earlier, it lead to complete inability to learn normal social interaction and resulting in early ostracism.
    As in most of such problems, the lack of insight on the core of the handicap, hinders handling the problem with conscious means.

    What the solution for him is, is of course outside my competence.
    I can barely write English, having spent almost 45 years speaking exclusively Swedísh daily, hence my odd style, sentence structure, and my use of ancient memes. (Smile)

    Thanks for your fine take on the problem, which we all share to some degree.

  17. 707 – I think he serves as a warning to all of us here. If you really do allow your prejudices rule you, if you refuse to acknowledge reality, ignore history and remain hidebound in ignorance this is what you become. I learn new things regularly, I often find the things I learn conflict with things I knew before so I have to check sources, examine prejudices and think through the process of coming to new knowledge. I assume it is what most thinking adults do to some extent. When they don’t do that they end up like bron – and you have to ask “what purpose do you serve?”

  18. PS to Bron,

    Being human like the rest of us, you’re certainly not willing to consciously tear down your knowledge, opinion and filter structures to rebuild in our likenesses.

    But then I ask, why hang around here. Most folks hang out where their habitual trio named above, can be mostly confirmed by the other hangees output.
    You insist on hanging here even tho’ your output meets mostly disdain.
    What motivates this inoccuous behavior? Missionary proselytizing?
    A compelling need for strident activity? A need to be disruptive (I once had that)? A need to prove your worth by “winning” (that too)?

    Please tell me why. My curiousity itches, but you don’t have to scratch it.

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