This seems like it would just create a vicious circle… A South Dakota Indian Reservation is debating whether to lift their ban on alcohol in order to sell and tax booze…To fund substance abuse prevention and treatment. Alcohol has been illegal on Pine Ridge Reservation for 100 years, and for good reason. The number of people affected by alcoholism on the reservation is astronomical.

The reservation is full of poverty and alcoholism. The unemployment rate is around 80%, with a per capita income of under $8000 in 2011. It is reported that at least 1 person in each household suffers from alcohol addiction. People die young, the average lifespan on Pine Ridge is just 45-52 years old. The situation is dire, and very tragic. But is the answer to this problem legalizing alcohol just to tax the sales in order to treat alcoholism?

“I see it as a way to get revenue to support prevention, intervention, rehabilitation and education,” says Robin Tapio, a tribe member who has been sober for 12 years. 

The argument is that legalizing alcohol and having it so easily accessible and nearby will just create more alcohol related issues on the reservation. Which makes complete sense. It seems backwards to legalize the very thing that is killing people to try to treat them. So, don’t drink alcohol, but here, let’s change the laws that were made to protect people, so go ahead and buy some booze at your local corner store so we can benefit from the taxes the sales generate.

“To have such easy access to alcohol just opens the door to worse things,” says Cordelia White Elk, director of a tribal employment office. “It’s like saying, ‘Let’s kill our own people to save them.'”

It sounds like there may be more to this story than trying to help people who are suffering. If the reservation lifts the alcohol ban and begins opening casinos and other alcohol related businesses, they stand to make a lot of money. But will it help decrease the incidences of alcoholism? Will it save lives?