Opinion: Wrong choices

POSTED: 02/13/12 2:57 PM

We read a story in the Volkskrant that put a smile on our face at first: Indians file complaint against breweries because of the serious alcohol-problems in their community. It’s a bit like fat people taking McDonalds to court because they make hamburgers.

The Oglala-Sioux tribe demands $500 million in damages for healthcare, welfare facilities and the rehabilitation of children. The tribe elders say that the lawsuit is a last remedy after other attempts to curb alcohol-abuse, like legislation and protests, failed.

In the Pine reservation alcohol is prohibited, so one cannot say that the tribe elders did not take their fight against alcohol to the limit. The closest place where alcohol is sold is a village called Whiteclay. It has – get this – about a dozen inhabitants. It is also 32 kilometers away from the Indian reservation. But business is brisk in the local liquor store: in 2010 it sold an astonishing 5 million cans of beer.

The tribe elders say that people smuggle the beer onto the reservation and that the breweries and the liquor store owners count on it.

Under such circumstances, lawyers for the tribe say, you cannot wash your hands off it and claim that it is not your concern what happens with the alcohol afterwards. The president of the tribe, John Yellow Bird Steele says that he wants to do everything in his power to protect the welfare of children.

In the reservation, 25 percent of all children have a fetus ailment due to alcohol abuse. Almost half the population lives under the poverty line. The life expectancy for these Indians is between 45 and 52 years, while for the average American this is 77.5 years.

Hmm. It is interesting that such a poor tribe is able to buy 5 million cans of beer. Where do they get the money? And would beer really do such damage to fetuses? We’re skating on thin ice here, but we suspect that the Indians may have found ways to produce their own brews – and that those beverages are a bit more innocent than beer.

Whether this is true or not, it remains a sad story. It is pretty certain that the Indians never will receive a penny from those breweries. The main effect of the lawsuit is therefore that it puts the plight of the Sioux on the map.

But the lesson here is – and this applies in St. Maarten as well as in the Pine Ridge Reservation – that it is seldom if ever fruitful to explain your own failures away by pointing at others. The tribe created this situation by banning alcohol. Of course that will result in smuggling, and almost certainly also to the production of moonshine.

There will always be people who abuse alcohol, but their numbers will grow exponentially when the stuff is made illegal. Have those Indians never read up on the Prohibition?

This feels very much like – look at this: it’s not my fault, so do something about it. The reality is that everybody has to solve his own problems, and take responsibility for his own behavior. That things have run out of hand in that reservation is sad, but it is also a result of making the wrong choices.

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