Senator: Limit alcohol sold near Pine Ridge reservation

Published Saturday, September 26, 2009

A state senator suggested limiting the amount of alcohol sold in Whiteclay during a legislative hearing held Friday to determine whether more should be done to address alcohol sales and use there.

“I tell you right now I support that,” said Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha. “I think we ought to do it soon and move on from there.”

Hobert Rupe, executive director of the state’s Liquor Control Commission, said it likely would be within the Legislature’s authority to limit sales at the four Whiteclay beer stores if it chose to do so.

Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, offered the idea as his committee and the General Affairs Committee held the first of two joint hearings that will constitute a legislative study on the issue.

The second will be in Rushville in November.

Whiteclay, population 14, rests on the Nebraska border near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where alcohol is barred but alcoholism is rampant.

Four stores in Whiteclay sell about 4 million cans of beer a year, mostly to Natives from the reservation.

On Friday, activists, state officials and others, including students from Creighton Prep School in Omaha, offered solutions to problems in Whiteclay, as well as encouragement to senators to address the issue.

Father Thomas Merkel — president of Creighton Prep, who lived on Pine Ridge for 10 years — said beer sales in Whiteclay affect everyone on the reservation.

“We should make sure we are enforcing our own laws,” he said.

Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing asked Merkel whether part of the problem of rampant beer sales in Whiteclay was the result of a lack of personal responsibility by tribal members.

Merkel said he couldn’t offer an opinion on issues of personal responsibility related to an entire class of people — though he said alcoholism is a problem in every culture.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said he didn’t think shutting down beer stores would solve the problem of alcoholism on the reservation.

But Merkel said it would help Nebraska fulfill its own moral responsibility for allowing rampant beer sales in Whiteclay.

“I think we face a moral issue, and we also face a legal issue,” he said.

Donna Polk-Primm, executive director of the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, said Nebraska should consider using state taxes collected from Whiteclay to support treatment for Natives seeking help in Nebraska.

At least two senators said they supported that idea.

Activist Frank LaMere shared the story of meeting an Oglala Sioux father whose 20-year-old son and a 15-year-old girl died in an August 2002 car crash near Whiteclay after the two allegedly bought and consumed beer from Whiteclay.

LaMere said the man asked him to continue his efforts to address the issue of rampant beer sales in Whiteclay.

“I don’t know why he told me those things,” LaMere said. “Perhaps so I could come here and tell you.”

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One Response to “Senator: Limit alcohol sold near Pine Ridge reservation”

  1. Jan Beauvais Says:

    WE had a ‘fall D’Arts” parade in Norfolk this weekend. Senator Mike Flood was walking down it. I yelled out. “Do something to do about WhiteClay” He turned and said, we had a hearing on Friday….I said, I know.
    So glad things are looking more in ‘our favor’. Congratulations on all the fine great work you have done. May have been lengthy, but mayb the outcome will be positive.
    I’m trying to help all I can out here….

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