|An aboriginal group wants $500 million in damages from beer companies for the cost of health care and social services. (Shutterstock)
An aboriginal band in South Dakota has filed a $500-million lawsuit against three of the world's largest beer brewers alleging their alcohol is causing harm on the reservation.
Lawyer Tom White, who represents the Oglala Sioux Tribe, alleges the beer companies and retailers named in the lawsuit are helping to illegally import alcohol in Whiteclay, Neb., to the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is prohibited.
The defendants named in the lawsuit include retailers and major beer manufacturers: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pabst, Molson Coors and Miller Brewing Company.
The band wants $500 million in damages for the cost of health care and social services.
The lawsuit says the village of Whiteclay has a dozen residents, but in 2010 four licensed stores sold nearly five million cans of beer.
Most of the beer bought in the village is resold on the Pine Ridge reservation, about 75 metres away, the lawsuit says.
"The defendants have failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the State of Nebraska and the Oglala Sioux Tribe," White said.
None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court.
Alcohol has been illegal on the reservation since 1832, except for a brief period in the early 1970s.
One in four children born on the reservation are diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the document says.
The average life expectancy is estimated to be between 45 and 52 years, the lawsuit says. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77.5 years.
"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 such as road blocks set up between Whiteclay and (Pine Ridge)," the lawsuit says. "All of the above have resulted in the publication of the facts of the illegal trade in alcohol and its devastating effects on the Lakota people, especially its children, both born and unborn."
Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.