Midland to host a screening of ‘The Battle for Whiteclay’

Published Wednesday May 13, 2009
BY BRETT ELLIS
FREMONT TRIBUNE

When Mark Vasina first agreed to do a documentary about the problems in Whiteclay and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he thought he would be finished within a year.

Instead, Vasina spent five years shooting footage for the film “The Battle for Whiteclay.”

“The complexity and difficulty of the activism about Whiteclay just led me to keep moving along, keep on looking and keep on learning,” said Vasina, a Colon native and 1971 graduate of Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo.

Vasina is bringing “The Battle to Whiteclay” to Fremont on Thursday.

Midland Lutheran College will host a free screening of the film at 6 p.m. in the Olson Student Center. The screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Vasina and Native American activist Frank LaMere.

“I’m real pleased to be showing it in Fremont,” Vasina said.

Whiteclay is an unincorporated village in northwest Nebraska that borders the Pine Ridge reservation.

Promotional material for the film says that Whiteclay’s four off-sale beer stores sell more than 11,000 cans of beer a day, mostly to the Native American inhabitants of the reservation, where alcohol is banned and there is a high rate of alcoholism and poverty.

Vasina became involved with the project in 2003 when fellow members of Nebraskans for Peace asked if he would be interested in making the documentary.

Vasina shot some footage in March of that year before taking a film crew to Whiteclay in June.

“I was just amazed and shocked by what I saw and heard about Whiteclay,” Vasina said. “(The project) chose me from that point on.”

Vasina completed the film late last year and had screenings at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Wesleyan University in November as part of Native American Heritage Month.

The film has been shown on college campuses around the state, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas. “The Battle for Whiteclay” also has been entered in some film festivals around the country.

“The general response is shock and amazement, even among those who knew something about Whiteclay,” Vasina said. “When they find out what’s really going on and how much foot dragging our elected officials have been doing on this issue over the years, shocked is an appropriate word.”

Vasina hopes the film inspires people to initiate change by contacting their state senator or the governor.

“The message is that this is going on, first of all,” Vasina said. “The second message is that we have to do something about it.”

Since the film premiered, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning visited Whiteclay with a group of state senators to get an up-close look at the situation.

That was encouraging to Vasina.

“I think we’ve got, for the first time, some serious attention by some influential state legislators,” he said.

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