Spirit Lake Nation looking at changing alcohol sales laws

Louise Oleson, DLJ Managing Editor
Peter Owlboy, Jr.

There is a growing movement gaining momentum within the Spirit Lake Nation to take a look at its current alcohol sales laws with the hopes of amending them.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” Peter Owlboy, Jr., said. Although there haven’t been alcohol sales on the reservation since the 1960s that hasn’t stopped consumption of alcohol and the related societal ills that can accompany alcohol abuse and addiction issues.

What Owlboy and a team of petition gatherers would like to see is a softening of the law to allow legalized sale of alcohol in restaurants and for specific special events, like pool tournaments at the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort or wedding receptions.

“Then we can compete with other venues across the lake,” Owlboy pointed out.

He believes it will increase revenues for the tribe and be a positive step for the people of the Spirit Lake Nation.

Owlboy is joined by other adults from the community who are gathering signatures on a petition to bring before the tribal council. Those helping collect signatures are Jared Owlboy, Dane Herald, Kathy Lenoir, Jackie Yankton, Felicia Greywater, Tamara Belgarde, Derrick Fornier, Orrin Peltier, Keisha Shaw and Peter Owlboy, Sr.

Most of these adults circulating the petition are in their 30s and are utilizing social media to spread the word about the petition. They have a public page on Facebook that addresses the issue.

The petition reads, “We, the undersigned members of Spirit Lake Nation, petition for a special referendum to consider the following issue.

The eligible voting members of Spirit Lake Nation deserve a chance to vote to allow alcohol/liquor sales at Spirit Lake Casino and Resort. Liquor sales will not be targeted at our own people, but will provide another staple for guests when they visit our casino to spend their money on our reservation. Initially, this vote would allow liquor sales to occur in the dining establishments at the casino and to serve liquor at events on the property of Spirit Lake Casino and Resort.

An increase in customers from the resulting sale of liquor will drive up gaming profits. Which in turn will increase Economic Development Funds (EDF) used by the tribe for all social programs.”

What do they want?

What they want, eventually, is legislation to legalize and regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors on the Spirit Lake Reservation, specifically at the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort.

Some of the finer points of their proposal include allowing for different types of licenses to be made available, like one-time licenses for special events like weddings. There will be strict oversight of these gatherings.

“The most privileged of these licenses, permitting regular sale of packaged and opened drinks shall be granted only to Spirit Lake Casino and Resort.

There will be strict limitations on the amount of alcohol that can be purchased at one time.

A portion of the money received from sales through the Casino and Resort as well as liquor license application fees will be set aside to fund alcohol and addiction rehabilitation services for tribal members,w ith the entent of making such services either free or heavily subsidized.

It has become clear to us that our current law, a total prohibition of the sale of alcohol has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful in ultimately curbing the prevalence of alcohol within our borders. We seek to address the issue in a manner which improves the standard of living for all members of Spirit Lake and will make very important rehabilitative services accessible to all.”

Owlboy says the reception he’s been getting on the reservation has been positive. “The majority of the people are pretty welcoming,” he said.

“Oh, there are those who oppose what we are doing, we know that, but to them we ask that they sign the petitions, too, so as a tribe we can dialogue about this issue,” he added.

Who can sign?

Owlboy says that anyone who is an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation, is 18 years of age or older and who has lived on the reservation for more than one year can sign the petition.

They need an estimated 436 signatures or 20 percent of all eligible voters, but Owlboy hopes to get more than they need because sometimes signatures are not always accepted once the petitions are turned in and the verification process begins.

After turning in the petitions to the tribal secretary/treasurer the council will have seven days to verify the signatures on the petition and to bring it to the people in a special election, Owlboy explained. He’s aming for the General Assembly which takes place the last Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m.

Looking back, Owlboy said he thought it had been decades since the last official vote had taken place on this issue. “I think it was 1997,” he said.