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Group hopes to block alcohol on Pine Ridge

PINE RIDGE (AP) — A group that opposes the legalization of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation plans to file an injunction in tribal court, arguing that not everyone who objects to the move might have been able to voice their opinion.

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Tribal members voted this week to end prohibition and legalize alcohol so the tribe can use the profits for education and treatment. The American Indian Movement Grassroots organization says it thinks the vote was illegal due to a lack of polling sites, improper notice for tribal members, inadequate training for election workers and other issues.

A majority of tribal members would have voted against legalization if more had gotten to the polls, organization President Thomas Cheyenne told the Rapid City Journal (

"There wasn't enough information for the tribal members — they weren't informed on what was going to happen," he said.

Election Commission Chairman Francis Pumpkin Seed disputed that, saying the overall count of 3,550 valid votes was one of the highest in Oglala Sioux history.

"Had the numbers been really, really low, I would say maybe there was a mistake, but the numbers were higher than the general (tribal council) election" last November, he said.

About 53 percent of those who cast ballots on Tuesday voted to approve alcohol on the southern South Dakota reservation. The result, if approved by the tribal council later this month, will end a ban on alcohol that has existed for the near-entirety of the reservation's 124-year history.

Pumpkin Seed acknowledged that Tuesday's election was conducted on a tight budget. In a general election, the tribe's executive branch usually budgets about $150,000. This election, the executive branch allocated $15,000. That meant only nine of the usual 22 polling places could be opened, which Pumpkin Seed said was not preferable but also not illegal. Tribal law does not stipulate how many polling sites need to open on the day of an election.

Pumpkin Seed said the training given to election workers was the same as for any regular election. He also said his commission sent out election notices two weeks before the referendum, and advertised it in print and on radio and television.

"I don't believe my commission has violated any sections of that (election) law," he said.

Cheyenne said that if his group feels its complaints aren't heard, it might hold protests because members believe alcohol legalization will hurt the Lakota culture and exacerbate existing alcohol problems on the reservation.

"The crime rate and the death rate from alcohol will increase," he said. "Sclerosis and everything that comes with it. And violence, which is going to be a bigger problem."