Help promised for Whiteclay

Published Saturday December 12, 2009
BY PAUL HAMMEL
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

A legislative committee says it will address the problems of the border town.

LINCOLN — After hearing an outpouring of frustration, members of a Nebraska legislative committee pledged Friday to take action to address the alcohol-related problems linked to the border town of Whiteclay, Neb.

Among the ideas at the hearing was devoting some of the $122,000 a year in state tax funds generated by beer sales in Whiteclay to help build a detoxification center on the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has rampant alcoholism and alcohol- related problems.

“We’ll propose ‘x’ amount of money to put it toward something,” said State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, who led Friday’s public hearing.

Karpisek said that besides a detox center, other uses of the money could be for a homeless shelter or for creating jobs next to a reservation that has the second highest poverty level in the nation.

Senators in Lincoln listened while about 20 people testified via a video hookup from Chadron, Neb., which is about 30 miles from Whiteclay, an unincorporated community known as “the skid row of the prairie.”

Whiteclay’s four beer-only liquor stores, those testifying said, are the main contributors to the alcohol-related problems plaguing the officially dry reservation. More than 3 million cans of beer are sold annually in Whiteclay.

Tribal law enforcement officials said more than 90 percent of the arrests on the reservation were alcohol-related — from drunken driving to child abuse, including when parents drive drunk with their children in the vehicles.

Theresa Two Bulls, president of the Oglala Sioux, said she was frustrated that a decade of studies and public hearings had resulted in little progress.

“I hope this is the last time we have these hearings,” Two Bulls said. “Let’s work together and get something done. Now.”

She said that Nebraska not only could help the tribe build a detox center and homeless shelter, but also should begin reimbursing the tribe for its costs in sending ambulances into Whiteclay and for treating those injured at the tribal hospital.

Contact the writer:  402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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