To battle alcoholism on South Dakota reservation, activists seek help from Budweiser

  1. SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- Organizers of an effort to keep booze off South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -- where alcohol is banned but alcoholism is rampant -- plan to take their case to the nation's largest beer company.
    Anheuser-Busch is the latest target of activists upset that four stores in tiny Whiteclay, Neb. -- just yards from the reservation border -- sell about 4 million cans of alcohol a year, mostly to American Indians who live on the 16,500-member reservation.
    Some Oglala Sioux tribal members and those affiliated with the activist group Nebraskans for Peace have twice tried to set up roadblocks to stop vehicles entering the reservation and confiscate any alcohol.
    They also protested last month outside the Scottsbluff, Neb., Budweiser distributor and now are trying to land a meeting with Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.
    Budweiser products account for 86 percent of alcohol sales in Whiteclay: 356,283 wholesale gallons in 2006, compared to 38,559 gallons from the Pabst distributor and 17,298 from Coors, according to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
    Duane Martin Sr., one of six tribal members arrested in June during the last failed blockade, said Anheuser-Busch has the right to sell its beverages but also has a responsibility to help quell chronic alcoholism among Indians.
    "They're not taking a serious look at what it's doing to people in Whiteclay," he said.
    Anheuser-Busch officials wouldn't say if they would meet with Martin and others but did issue a statement from Carol Clark, vice president of corporate social responsibility.
    "At Anheuser-Busch, we brew our beers to be enjoyed responsibly by adults. No company benefits when its products are misused. That's why, since 1982, Anheuser-Busch and our 600 wholesalers nationwide, including the wholesaler serving this area, have invested more than $675 million to promote responsibility and fight alcohol abuse," Clark's statement read.
    "While we are certain these individuals are well-intentioned, we do not believe asking our company or our wholesaler to stop selling our products is the way to address these problems. Eliminating sales would affect responsible adult consumers and harm retailers throughout the area."
    But Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace, said beer companies need to be more of a player and could do more, short of pulling their products off the shelves.
    "Nobody has ever said Anheuser-Busch is the sole agent or that the beer companies are the sole agents responsible for what's going on in Whiteclay or on the reservation," he said. "We're all responsible. We all need to work on solutions."
    Vasina plans to accompany Martin to St. Louis and encourage Budweiser to consider funding an alcohol treatment program or detoxification center, for example.
    "What about returning some of those profits to the community?" Vasina said.
    Demand for alcohol has led to sales to minors, bootlegging, selling on credit, and exchanging alcohol for sexual favors, Vasina said. It has also contributed to accidents, violence, sexual abuse and suicide, according to the alcohol and drug program for the reservation.
    The reservation's youth suicide rate is the highest in the nation, and most involve alcohol.

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