Whiteclay needs creative thinking

Published Wednesday, September 30, 2009
LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR
EDITORIAL

It is encouraging that the Nebraska Legislature is willing to continue exploring the tragic circumstances that prevail along the South Dakota border, where beer bought at the village of Whiteclay, Neb., continues to corrode lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The Legislature conducted an interim study hearing last week and plans another in November at Rushville.

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

Whiteclay’s tragedy is familiar.

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

The tie between the village and the reservation is complicated by the issues presented by multiple jurisdictions: two states, a sovereign Native tribe and the federal government.

Problems in the area – where people often are passed out drunk on the sidewalks or begging for beer money – have been the subject of finger-pointing for decades.

The latest legislative initiative came from a visit to Whiteclay in March by state Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln and state Liquor Control Commissioner Robert Batt.

Among the more creative suggestions brought forth by the renewed legislative study are those made by two women: Donna Polk-Primm, executive director of the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, and Judi Morgan gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, who suggested that state taxes collected at Whiteclay be used for alcohol treatment of Natives at Pine Ridge or in Nebraska, and possibly for job creation on the reservation.

We suggested virtually the same thing on the Whiteclay issue in this space four years ago.

Recognizing the difficulties of crossing jurisdictional and cultural boundaries, we want the appropriate public authorities in the states, the reservation and the federal government to show the same kind of creative thinking in trying to improve these destructive conditions.

Mark Vasina, director and producer of “The Battle for Whiteclay,” a film about alcohol sales in the town, said he hopes the latest legislative study will provide a body of facts that can be used to craft solutions.

“I have great confidence … that the study is not going to attempt to whitewash the issue or anything like that,” he said.

We hope not. This wound has been unhealed for way too long.

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