Winner of the Canon Female Photojournalist Award 2016 supported by ELLE Magazine
“If it were up to me, I would go through that town and destroy every building there. I remember many times dragging my mom out of there. She did not want to leave Whiteclay. We made her, we would fight with her, to get her in the car.” [Olowan Martinez]
Whiteclay a town of 10 people and four liquor stores that line the main street, Highway 87, selling 4.9 million cans of beer a year, more than 13,000 cans a day. Most are sold to the Oglala Lakotas from the Pine Ridge Reservation. The border is 60 meters away.
Alcohol has been illegal on the Pine Ridge Reservation since it was established in 1889. Tribal members drive, hitchhike, walk across the border, or buy alcohol from bootleggers. The reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States, and for the estimated 40,000 people living there, the statistics are devastating: 85% unemployed, 70% below the poverty line, and the second-lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere: 47 years for men and 52 for women. Tribal leaders believe that alcohol is at the root of these serious problems.
At Wounded Knee Cemetery, Olowan Martinez is visiting her father’s grave; he died at age 22 in an alcohol-related car accident when she was an infant. Olowan was 12 years old when she had her first drink: “I took shots of overproof rum. I was mostly forced to drink.” By 15, she was drinking regularly. She married at 18; they had met drinking. “I got my first beating, and it stayed really violent to the point where he did try to take my life. He went to prison.” Her mother died from cirrhosis of the liver. Olowan Martinez is now 43, and has been sober for 18 years.
Ms. Martinez is part of a network of women activists on the Pine Ridge Reservation who, with others, camped for over a year at the border, blocking delivery trucks and protesting against the liquor stores in Whiteclay. But she says that alcohol is not the only enemy: “He has brothers-in-arms like methamphetamine and suicide that are swallowing the Oglala Lakota youth, and fast. I have a 15-year-old daughter. I did not bring her into this world to have her turned into an addict.”…