Pine Ridge, S.D. — In August, a potentially momentous vote took place—not momentous for the nation, but for the nation of the Oglala Sioux, or Oglala Lakota, as they’re also called. Here on the Pine Ridge reservation, tribe members voted to lift the longstanding ban on alcohol: its sale, possession, and consumption. The vote was 1,843 to 1,683, or 52 percent to 48 percent. The issue has stirred passions on the reservation. And it’s not quite over: Repeal is “not a done deal,” as an official tells me. The Tribal Council must approve it.
Pine Ridge drifts in and out of the national consciousness, mainly out. In 1973, activists took over the village of Wounded Knee, creating a national drama. Pine Ridge is in the southwestern corner of South Dakota. It’s larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined—but smaller than Connecticut. Some 17,000 people live here. By contrast, Wyoming, the least populous state, has 576,000. Pine Ridge is a very poor place, the poorest of all the reservations.