Category Archives: Oglala Sioux Beer Suit

Suing You for What I Do

There’s a lawsuit afield. The Oglala Sioux are suing (no smirking, please) beer manufacturers for $500,000,000 in damages supposedly caused by the selling of beer near their reservation. More can be read about it here.

This action is disturbing on several grounds:

1. This lawsuit is like suing Ford for painting the Pinto the wrong color. The native peoples of this continent have been treated badly by European settlers. After more than two centuries, we can’t simply hit the reset button and put things to rights altogether. What we can do is take steps to solve poverty, one of the main causes of the problem here.

2. At the same time, we also have to hold individuals accountable for their own actions. Does a beer brewer force anyone to drink beer? Is anyone–outside of a fraternity house, that is–forced to consume alcohol? Perhaps I should sue Motown for producing decades of bad music that has been played to me in many contexts in my life. Should I sue cows for making all of that addictive cheese possible? Tobacco companies deserved to be sued because they lied about their product. That’s not what happened in this case. If a company can make a product without causing undue harm in the manufacturing process and then can sell the product with accurate labelling of the contents, that’s the end of the company’s responsibility. My choice to buy it or not is just that: my choice.

3. There is apparently a total prohibition of alcohol on the reservation in question. Would someone please inform me as to a time and a place in which prohibition has stopped the sale or use of any product or service?

I do not wish to diminish the terrible effect that alcoholism has on a person or a community. What I do say, though, is that this suit is a hugely blunt instrument and is likely to fail in the end–after costing a lot of money, that is. Drinking alcohol is a choice, and this suit denies the reality of that choice.