How Whiteclay (population: 11) sells 5m cans of beer a year

It's 20 minutes' drive from a 20,000-strong Native American reservation, which is now suing brewers and the town's off-licences

Los Angeles

It doesn't take a genius to work out how the rural town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which has a population of exactly 11, can support four off-licences selling around five million cans of beer each year. Roughly 20 minutes' drive north, across the South Dakota border, lies the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to 20,000 Native Americans, which suffers one of the most severe alcohol problems found anywhere in the developed world.

No less than 85 per cent of local families contain at least one alcoholic, while one in four children born there suffer foetal disorders caused by alcohol abuse. Life expectancy is between 45 and 52, the shortest average lifespan of any community in the western hemisphere outside Haiti. With this in mind, elders of Pine Ridge's Oglala Sioux tribe have decided to pursue a very modern-day solution to their modern-day problem: they are taking their fight against the "great remover" to the country's compensation courts.

A lawsuit filed last week against America's biggest brewing companies, Anheuser-Busch, InBev, SABMiller, Molson Coors, MillerCoors and Pabst, along with the four off-licences in Whiteclay, seeks $500m (£310m) in damages for their alleged encouragement of the "illegal sale and trade in alcohol" to members of the tribe.

The Oglala Sioux tribe has outlawed drink on its property, in line with its legal rights, and therefore claims that both the brewers and local liquor stores are selling their products in the knowledge that they will be smuggled into the reservation for illicit consumption and resale. "The illegal sale and trade in alcohol in Whiteclay is open, notorious and well documented by news reports, legislative hearings, movies, public protests and law enforcement activities," the lawsuit reads.

Tom White, the lawyer representing the tribe, told Associated Press that he had no wish to outlaw legitimate beer sales in the town. But he wanted to prevent store owners selling it in vast quantities to people who are clearly intent on smuggling it over the border. "You cannot sell 4.9 million 12oz [356ml] cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we've got nothing to do with it being smuggled," he said, noting that the quantity equates to 250 cans per year per resident of the reservation. Pine Ridge is the only major population centre within reach of Whiteclay's off-licences.

The tribe says the $500m compensation will reimburse it for the cost of providing healthcare, social services and child rehabilitation, and describes the lawsuit as its last resort in the battle to curb alcohol abuse. None of the store owners, or brewing firms, has yet responded to the claim.

Legal experts say that the Oglala Sioux may be on to something. Thomas Horton, a law professor at the University of South Dakota, said the claim could have implications across the country. Native Americans have a famously destructive relationship with alcohol, and the abuse at Pine Ridge is mirrored in communities across the US. If their claim succeeds, dozens more could follow.

The reason for the disproportionate levels of alcoholism among Native Americans divides experts. Some scientists suggest they have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Others blame cultural factors, including high unemployment and social disenchantment in their communities.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker