Legislative committee hears recommendations on problems near Whiteclay

Published Saturday December 12, 2009

It’s time for Nebraska state government to stop talking and do something to help curb the alcohol-related problems stemming from Whiteclay, state senators were told Friday.

That’s Whiteclay, Neb., where last year 395,302 gallons of beer (the equivalent of 175,690 cases of beer) were sold, primarily to Oglala Sioux from the nearby Indian reservation in South Dakota where alcohol sales are prohibited.

Twenty people from the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge reservation and Whiteclay told Nebraska senators about Whiteclay-related problems and gave their recommendations during a public hearing Friday afternoon conducted through a video link between Chadron State College and the Capitol.

More than 90 percent of the arrests on the reservation are alcohol-related, tribal leaders told members of the General Affairs and the Judiciary Committee.

And several people described the alcohol-related family problems, including numerous children removed from their homes because their parents were drunk.

In one case, a mother was so drunk she couldn’t give her children’s names.

Another mother didn’t know the name of the man in bed with her and her child, according to Judge Sonia Weston, youth and family court judge at Pine Ridge.

Whiteclay is often cited with having a population of 14. The four liquor stores there, two miles from the reservation town of Pine Ridge, only make problems worse, senators were told.

“They are making a profit out of the people’s misery,” said Terri White Eyes.

“Whiteclay may be a town, but you don’t see any citizens. You don’t see a school. But you sure see a lot of beer cans.”

Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, who represents the area, repeatedly asked what the tribal police were doing about bootleggers who bring alcohol onto the reservation for sale illegally and about the fact that alcohol is also sold to tribal members in other Nebraska and South Dakota towns.

His questions prompted several people to emphasize that Friday’s hearing was about Whiteclay.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers and time to focus on Whiteclay, said Tribal Council President Theresa Two Bulls.

“Our people are dying,” said Lydia Bear Killer, a member of the Tribal Council.

“This problems is yours. You are not picking up any of the costs,” she said. “You need to find solutions.”

Bruce BonFleur, who runs a used clothing store in Whiteclay, described the health and safety problems in a community with no public restroom and numerous homeless people who urinate and defecate in the street.

“The street people of Whiteclay deserve better,” BonFleur said.

“This is a larger issue than closing down a couple of liquor stores,” Louden said as the hearing ended.

Whiteclay has been the bull’s-eye for a much larger problem, he said.

Any solution will require cooperation among South Dakota, Nebraska, the federal government and the tribal council, he said.

What can Nebraska do?

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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