Bootleggers on the Rez have got to be the lowest of the low. I hardly ever hear of bootleggers getting busted anymore. I read about drug dealers going to jail but I don’t remember any bootleggers getting arrested.
Oh wait. Maybe they aren’t being arrested because alcohol is a legal drug. Never mind our cemeteries are full of young Lakota people who took their lives while under the influence of alcohol or that there are many other Lakota people buried in those same cemeteries because they drank themselves to death. Even though alcohol is the most devastating drug the Lakota people have become addicted to, it is still legal.
In my opinion, most businesses which have a liquor license also have the blood of my people on their hands. The bootleggers also have blood on their hands. You might counter my statement with the argument that drinking is a personal choice but someone has to sell the booze. Obtaining a liquor license or bootlegging vodka is also a personal choice. I don’t have any blood on my hands because I am not a drug dealer of alcohol. I do not own a bar or an off-sale liquor/beer establishment nor am I a bootlegger. When you sell alcohol your hands carry the blood of the people who die from drinking.
When I post a status on Facebook about how bad the drinking is on my Rez I draw a slew of mixed reactions. The sober people who watch every single day what booze is doing to our people usually agree with me. The people who still actively drink the drug are the ones who call me names or label me as judgmental.
There are bootleggers in nearly every community on my Rez. As a child I had a parent who bootlegged to people. I didn’t like it. I remember there was always someone knocking at the door. I knew where the tin cup full of quarters was kept; it was there to give change because the green bottled pints sold for $1.50 back then.
Nowadays there are many people living on fixed incomes and since our lives are now nearly dominated by technology there are ATM cards which people are issued in order to receive their monthly cash (TANF, SSI, etc.) or food benefits (SNAP). I learned that the bootleggers take these cards too. Some of our people can easily drink up all their money and/or benefits. They don’t buy food. They don’t pay their bills. They just drink.
Thus, the children of alcohol overdosers (who are not already in the custody of the South Dakota Department of Social Services or are not already placed in a non-Indian foster home) are stuck in the drinker’s home and often live with no power, no heat and no food. Many children do not even have adequate clothing for the winter months.
Many of the gift cards issued a few months back by my tribe for the purpose of buying coats or boots for school children were traded to the bootlegger so he/she could buy more cheap booze to sell for ridiculously marked up prices to the drinkers in the community. Or the gift cards were sold for cash at half of their value so the drinking parent could go sit in the bar. Did you buy one of those $150 cards for $75? If so, you helped deprive a child of some much needed clothing or shoes.
The children of active alcoholics rarely have any sober role models in the home. I grew up watching many family members and community people drink. It was all around me. There was absolutely no escape. Today I wonder if I would have succumbed to the many years I devoted to alcohol overdosing if I had grown up around sober people. After all, the people whom I watched overdose on alcohol when I was a child were the ones who showed me how to drink. When most of the family boozes, it must be okay for you to drink alcohol as an adult, right?
Still, I cannot blame any one person for the many years I was an active drinker. It was my choice to do all of that but it might have been different if alcohol was not so readily available to me. In any case, I am fortunate to have summoned the strength and the courage to put the booze away. Many of the people I drank heavily with are still at it.
This column was sparked through a message sent to me by a young person who wanted advice on how to stop the bootlegging in their community. In my opinion, the only way people can quash the bootleggers is to take back their community. It has to be a grass roots effort and I would hope that local law enforcement could assist with such a movement.
Look at what happened at White Clay, NE over the weekend. The Oglala have had enough of those liquor establishments selling the poison to their people so they marched on them for several days in a row. The Oglala Lakota successfully shut the stores down from doing any more business on those days! Not even the Nebraska police could stop the Oglala. The people were led by their Tribal President Bryan Brewer. The Oglala Lakota are showing the world they are serious about stopping the sale of alcohol on their border. They are taking back their own community.
I encourage the people on the Rosebud Rez to take back our community. One way to draw attention to the problem is to organize a walk with stops at the houses where the known bootleggers live. It was pointed out to me that even our school children know where these houses are. When a walk is scheduled please contact me. I will bring my camera to photograph the bootlegger’s houses. I will post the pictures on my Facebook and WordPress pages.