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(Reuters) - A Native American Indian tribe has filed suit against some top beer makers, as well as a handful of retailers and distributors, claiming they have knowingly contributed to "crippling" alcoholism rates on a reservation in South Dakota.
The suit, filed by the Oglala Sioux tribe, alleges the defendants are "engaged in a common enterprise focused on assisting and participating in the illegal importation of alcohol" onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the sale, possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal.
The defendants include Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide Inc, SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Pabst Brewing Company, as well as four retailers in Whiteclay, Nebraska and the distributors who sell to them.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in federal court in Lincoln, Nebraska, claims the defendants have knowingly turned Whiteclay into a major source of alcohol smuggling onto the reservation, selling volumes of beer "far in excess of an amount that could be sold in compliance with the laws of the state of Nebraska."
The lawsuit claims that Whiteclay has a population of fewer than 12 people and "no publically accessible place to lawfully consume alcohol." Yet each day, the four retailers in town sell more than 13,000 cans of beer.
Much of that beer ends up on the reservation, according to the lawsuit, where it has "devastating effects" on the tribe. Eight-five percent of the tribe's members are "affected by alcoholism," according to the suit, and one in four children born on Pine Ridge is diagnosed with either fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
The tribe is seeking $500 million in compensation to pay for "all damages it has suffered in the past and in reasonably likely to suffer in the future" as a result of the alcohol sales in Whiteclay.
Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide Inc, SAB Miller, Molson Coors Brewing Company did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune