An American Indian tribe sued some of the world's largest beer makers Thursday, claiming they knowingly contributed to devastating alcohol-related problems on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota said it is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, where alcohol is banned.
The lawsuit names Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide, SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company, MIllerCoors LLC and Pabst Brewing Company as defendants.
The lawsuit says one in four children born on the reservation suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The average life expectancy is estimated between 45 and 52 years, the shortest in North America except for Haiti, according to the lawsuit. The average American life expectancy is 77.5 years.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska also targets four offsite beer stores in Whiteclay, a Nebraska town that despite having only about a dozen residents sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010. Most of its customers come from the reservation on the town's border.
Leaders of the tribe blame the Whiteclay businesses for bootlegging on the reservation.
The lawsuit alleges that the beer makers supplied the stores with "volumes of beer far in excess of an amount that could be sold in compliance with the laws of the state of Nebraska" and the tribe.
A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide said she was not yet aware of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon. Representatives for the four beer stores declined comment or were unavailable.
The reservation has struggled with alcoholism and poverty for generations, despite an alcohol ban in place since 1832. Pine Ridge legalized alcohol in 1970 but restored the ban two months later, and an attempt to allow it in 2004 died after a public outcry.
Pine Ridge encompasses some of the nation's poorest counties. U.S. census statistics place Shannon County, South Dakota, as the third-poorest, with a median household income of $27,300 and nearly half of the population meeting federal poverty standards.