Update 06/13/14: President Obama is making a historical visit to Indian Country on Friday, his first as president, and only the fourth trip by a president to a reservation ever. He will tout the significant work of his administration to improve the lives of Native Americans, and unveil new measures to help tribal communities scarred by unemployment, poverty, crime and health problems.
In August, America Tonight spent time on Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, one of the poorest places in America, which had just overturned its alcohol ban. Today, the reservation remains dry because of delays in drafting a key resolution, but tribal leaders are now considering legalizing marijuana, which would make it the first American reservation to do so.
Tune in to the report tonight at 9p.m. ET.
PINE RIDGE, S.D. | The reservation home to the Oglala Sioux sits on a beautiful and unforgiving landscape. The tribe has long struggled with an epidemic of alcoholism, even though alcohol sales and possession are illegal. Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer blames alcohol sales just across the border outside the Pine Ridge Reservation. The liquor stores in nearby Whiteclay, Neb., a town with a population of 10 people, sell more than 4 million cans of beer a year.
The Oglala Sioux voted earlier this month to allow liquor sales on the reservation. If it passes a court challenge, the new law will allow the tribe to make money from alcohol sales to use for detox and treatment centers. Opponents of the referendum fear selling alcohol on the reservation will worsen the alcohol problem here.
Documentary photographer Wesaam Al-Badry first lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation seven years ago after growing up in refugee camps in southern Iraq. For more than three years, he’s captured scenes of life on the reservation including Camp Zero Tolerance – an effort to stop alcohol abuse.
“These people and their families are affected … and they want to bring a change to their own hometown, and there is nothing more beautiful than communities fixing [something],” Al-Badry said. “We are aware of alcohol and the reservations. What we’re not aware of is how to fix it.”
He said more people on the reservation are standing up against alcohol abuse, including children and tribe elders.
Al-Badry said he believes he can change the world as a photographer by highlighting underreported stories, but he’s doing so in small steps.
“Here’s an issue that the mainstream media isn’t covering,” he said. “Here’s another human being struggling.”
In addition to telling stories, Al-Badry sees himself as a link between donors and people in need. He estimates that he’s helped distribute about $40,000 in basic needs such as blankets, space heaters and socks.
“I never really want to see another human being struggling, and my way of helping is a camera,” he said.
Joie Chen and Dave Gustafson contributed to this story.