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Whiteclay

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Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jessica Wade
OPINION EDITOR

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.”

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Cassie Wade
CONTRIBUTOR

In one of the first gatherings of the Whiteclay awareness group, students and community members met at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Community Engagement Center to discuss the social injustices surrounding the infamous Nebraska village.

Whiteclay is an unincorporated village located near the Nebraska and South Dekota border consisting of 12 people and four liquor stores. It’s within walking distance of the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation which 28,000 to 45,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe call home.

According to UNO social work professor Patty Carlson, the town of Whiteclay doesn’t have a school, library or church. It only exists to sell alcohol and business is booming.

“Whiteclay sells about 12,000 cans of alcohol a day and 4,000,000 cans a year,” Carlson said. “They sell primarily to Native Americans that come down from the reservation or are homeless and reside around Whiteclay.”

While it is legal to buy and consume alcohol in Whiteclay, it’s illegal to bring onto the reservation, which has led to a spike in the area’s crime rate.

Photo Courtesy of The Gateway
Photo Courtesy of The Gateway

“It’s not just that these four liquor stores are selling alcohol, it’s how they’re selling it,” Carlson said. “There’s video documentation that it’s to inebriated people and minors. There are accounts of people talking about trading alcohol for sex, and it’s being bootlegged onto the reservation.”

A high crime rate is not the only problem associated with Whiteclay, however. Carlson said the people of Pine Ridge face many social injustices most Nebraskans are unaware of.

“We wouldn’t allow what is occurring in Whiteclay [to happen] anywhere in Omaha or where there’s more of a watchful eye,” Carlson said. “It’s kind of out of the way, out of sight, out of mind.”

For this reason, Carlson said we as Nebraskans have a duty to take care of what is going on in our state. This is exactly what the Whiteclay Awareness Group intends to do.

The Whiteclay Awareness Group was founded in 2009 by retired Creighton Prep social studies teacher and the group’s current vice president, Bill Laird.

“My students at Prep experienced a presentation by Frank Lamere and Mark Vasina who produced a documentary, ‘The Battle for Whiteclay,’” Laird said. “They were appalled and initiated an effort to do something about the existence of such a predatory situation in their state.”

Laird and his students organized the Whiteclay Awareness Group to offer an adult advocacy effort. According to Carlson, the group disbanded in 2013 after the Oglala Sioux tribe voted to allow the sale of alcohol on the reservation,which should have put Whiteclay out of business.

“Even though the tribe voted it in, it’s the tribal counsel who has to develop the policy of how to make that happen,” Carlson said. “The tribal counsel has not yet done that even though in facts, the law changed.”

Tired of not seeing any change, the Whiteclay Awareness Group has been reformed.Laird said past efforts have included petitions to state legislators, a letter to President Obama, a lawsuit and a meeting with the tribal president and Nebraska State Officials. The group isn’t sure what approach they will take to resolve the situa-tion at this time.

Laird encourages anyone who would like to become involved in the Whiteclay Awareness Group to attend one of the meetings which will take place the first Thursday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in UNO’s Community Engagement Center.

For more information about Whiteclay, visit The Battle for Whiteclay website or the Hidden Massacre of Whiteclay, Nebraksa and Whiteclay Awareness Committee Facebook pages.

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