The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission made a surprising decision Wednesday to deny the renewal of the liquor licenses of four stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska.
The village of Whiteclay is small, even by Nebraska standards. With about 15 official residents, according to the 2000 Census, the village has four liquor stores and illegally supplies alcohol to the Pine Ridge Reservation located 400 yards north of Whiteclay in South Dakota.
Saying that Whiteclay has an alcohol problem is a colossal understatement. An investigation by KETV found the village sells 3.5 million cans of beer each year, mostly to Pine Ridge residents.
Activists have been advocating for a solution to Whiteclay and Pine Ridge’s alcohol problems and the many problems that come with it.
Many of the children born in Whiteclay or nearby suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, and an estimated one out of every four children born on the Pine Ridge Reservation suffer some degree of birth defect due to alcohol.
This rampant alcoholism is also blamed for cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault and a devastatingly high rate of suicide among Pine Ridge youths. The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge is 50 years.
Opponents of the decision to revoke the stores’ liquor licenses argue that people will simply find other ways to buy alcohol. UNO professor and author of multiple publications on Native Americans, Bruce Johansen said that it is possible for other sources to emerge.
“The real question may be: what is going to happen to all the people who have been drinking all that
beer,” Johansen said. “Most of them come from the reservation. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and some other source of supply may develop.”
Johansen said there is also the argument of “freedom.”
“It’s about time, and I hope the decision is upheld during whatever appeals the storeowners and the beer companies have at their disposal,” Johansen said.
If they follow past procedure, they’ll argue their case in terms of ‘freedom’. The stores have a right to sell the Indians beer, and the Indians have a right to get drunk, they have argued. Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave.”
While it is impossible to say whether or not closing the liquor stores in Whiteclay will solve the areas many problems, it is a better solution than turning away and doing nothing. The people of Whiteclay are Nebraskans, and it’s time fellow Nebraskans acknowledged their plight.
This is a problem that won’t be solved overnight, but by making a move to close down the liquor stores, The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission has taken the first step necessary in solving any problem: acknowledging that a problem exists.
“Finally, Nebraska has quit avoiding the Whiteclay issue,” Johansen said. “It has taken a long time, and I doubt that the battle is over.”