Whiteclay discussions continue during Native American Heritage Month

Published Friday November 20, 2009
THE GATEWAY (University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Mark Vasina with Nebraskans for Peace hosted a discussion over the issue at Whiteclay, Neb., on Tuesday at the College of Public Affairs and Community Service building.

Nebraskans for Peace, along with Creighton Prep High School, came to UNO as part of the series of events for Native American Heritage Month.

During the discussion. Vasina also showed the documentary “The Battle for Whiteclay,” which he produced to bring more awareness to Whiteclay.

Whiteclay borders a Lakota Indian reservation in South Dakota called Pine Ridge. Pine Ridge is dry reservation and doesn’t allow alcohol on its territory. With a population of 14, Whiteclay currently has four liquor stores within walking distance of the Pine Ridge border.

“Whiteclay exists not just because it sells alcohol, it exists because it sells alcohol indiscriminately to anybody, 14 15, 16-year-old kids,” Vasina said. “Anyone can buy alcohol anytime they want. They sell it to already intoxicated people. People bring their food stamp cards to sell for alcohol.”

One solution mentioned was legalizing alcohol on Pine Ridge Reservation. Vasina said this was tried in 2004 and caused such an uproar among the elders of the population that the tribal council pulled back on the bill.

UNO senior Miekka Milliken, a social work major, asked the most important question of the discussion: “What can we do?”

Vasina said students looking to get involved should contact state governors and senators.

He mentioned that State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha (non-partisan) in particular has indicated concern for the situation, citing him as the best person to contact. Sen. Ashford currently holds a position in the Judiciary Committee.

“The governor is the single most important person in the state to deal with this issue,” Vasina said. “He hires and fires at will the head of the state patrol. If the governor says the state isn’t doing enough to deal with Whiteclay and we need to do more, it will happen.”

He said Sen. Ashford asked the head of the state police if the state patrol would increase funds to combat the Whiteclay problem.

“His response was no,” Vasina said. “We understand that the reason he said no was because the governors’ position of ‘don’t spend anymore.’”

Vasina also discussed creating a student group at UNO to bring awareness to Whiteclay. Many students, including Milliken, were inspired by the discussion.

“I thought it was terrific,” Milliken said. “After today, I am going start writing some letters to my senator about this problem.

News Editor Emily Johnson contributed to this report.”

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