Glass half empty, alcohol, permaculture and prohibition

Good Gravy! A look at permaculture with T.B. Livermont

Permaculture is a design system for ecological human habitats that work as part of nature, not outside it or against it.

Recently, the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to oust prohibition and its status as a dry rez.

As my father’s daughter and an enrolled member of the OST, I saw this as a huge leap forward, even if I don’t still live there and was unable to cast my vote.

For many who know me, it is no secret that my father, who died almost two years ago, was a notorious bootlegger in Wanblee, SD.

As a teenager, I remember visiting him and witnessing the handoff of folks coming to get their Mountain Dew bottles filled up with wine out of a huge glass jug. He joked then with that great big smile of his and wonderful laugh that he was doing a community service, keeping people off of glue.

I could tell he half believed it.

Later, he would mourn the death of one of his friends who ran for him, after he rolled a suped-up old jeep that my dad, also the local mechanic, had, presumably on one more run for booze.

I could tell dad took his death on himself, and I only tell this story to share an inside look at what drinking on Pine Ridge can look like, beyond the nightmare of White Clay.

This is a reality any of us with friends or family know about Pine Ridge, and it would be the reality should certain factions of tribal members here in Cheyenne River get their way and force prohibition onto the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Using permaculture design and what many of us know from personal experience or firsthand witnesessing, I can see a few major red flags:

– with prohibition, alcohol delivery is individualized so more fuel is required to run the booze and increases the danger of illegal activity on road ways

-alcohol is forced underground, putting an undo legal and financial burden on people of low income and only benefits the corporations hired by large prison systems

-alcohol is treated as a governmental sin, therefore moderation is not a possibility, because breaking the law is never a lightly taken action

-distribution of alcohol is localized to individuals or speakeasies. Cottage business can be a good thing, but this brings illegal activity into homes and neighborhoods near vulnerable people like children or the elderly

-how the booze is manufactured and the way the crops are grown to sustain it is far removed by those consuming the alcohol, allowing the cheapest and worst alcohol, including GMO grains and byproducts of the alcohol industry to be used

-alcohol is used for binge drinking or to stay intoxicated, therefore the price must be cheap and drives down the quality of the product being offered by bootleggers, both so it is easier to sell and to maximize profits

-prohibition undercuts cottage industries using excess fruit or grain in their locale to produce homemade ciders, beer or wine, denying regional identity and responsibility for alcohol creation

-the lack of cottage industries means that larger industries will also sell their high-alcohol content products and maximize their profits

-people won’t want to be caught with alcohol containers, thus for those bootleggers selling by the can, litter will become a huge problem

-more people will drive drunk as a way of hiding their alcohol consumption on back roads, causing deaths to themselves and innocent people

-the sale of alcohol via bootlegging or legal sales does put money back in the community by recirculating their profits

-prohibition takes away the ability to tax the exchange of alcohol from local and tribal governments

-prohibition doesn’t do away with the habits of alcohol consumption and is a greater deficit to the local environment.

Everything we do can be looked at through this lens of permaculture, and since permaculture recognizes and reinforces indigenous knowledges as well as scientific theory, while respecting various spiritual traditions, we can be comfortable looking at a variety of issues with it, including prohibition and alcohol consumption.

I will freely admit that I already oppose prohibition, so perhaps my use of permaculture is skewed here. I would welcome anyone to play devil’s advocate and use permaculture to prove the point of prohibition.

That said, it seems  obvious that when you reinforce a community’s dependence on an outside industry to provide products, use carbon fuel and road resources to get that product, and undercut cottage industries you realize quickly the major issue of prohibition and all alcohol dependence is reliance on outside industry.

When you provide for cottage or small businesses creating sustainably, locally-sourced wine, beer or ciders, you provide a means of natural regulation. A community only has so many fruit trees or grain fields, and the excess thereof, to put into creation of alcohol production.

So if you want to prohibit something, create a closed hoop of consumption and creation.

I’d be interested in hosting a beer-making workshop sometime and asking some friends and contacts in the state to come and share their expertise on home-made beer and cider. If you would be interested in that, email me at



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