Group protests beer sales in Whiteclay

Published Monday March 2, 2009

About two dozen people huddled together in a cold wind for a prayer ceremony and rally on the west steps of the Capitol to protest alcohol sales in Whiteclay.

Several Lincoln and Omaha clergy members spoke at the Monday rally, along with Winnebago activist Frank LaMere and Mark Vasina of Nebraskans for Peace.

“All of us joining together are called to justice and to root out intolerance and to bring peace to the earth in particular locations,” said Richard Turner of the United Methodist Church.

On the 142-year anniversary of Nebraska’s statehood, LaMere announced plans to reignite the issue of alcohol sales at Whiteclay, where four beer stores sell an estimated 11,000 cans of beer a day.

The stores largely make their profit off Oglala Sioux tribal members living on South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.

This June is the 10-year anniversary of the murders of Wilson Black Elk Jr. and Ronald Hard Heart, whose deaths sparked marches and other efforts to address alcohol sales in Whiteclay.

LaMere said he and others plan to commemorate the Oglala men’s deaths with a march from Pine Ridge to Whiteclay this summer.

“We want to elevate the discussion again and we want to light a fire under our legislators, who continue to sit on their hands and not deal with an issue that is so important to all of us as Nebraskans,” he said.

Chuck Bentjen, director of justice and advocacy ministries for the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Following the rally Monday, Vasina’s documentary, “The Battle for Whiteclay,” was screened at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

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