For Whiteclay, Nebraska problems, some push for detox

Published Sunday December 13, 2009
BY NATE JENKINS
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation fed up with alcoholism and what they say is Nebraska’s contribution to the woes are pleading for a detox center in or near the beer-drenched town of Whiteclay.

The idea, agreed to by leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is being floated to Nebraska lawmakers who are studying ways to the address problems. The four stores that mainly comprise Whiteclay, population 14, sell about 4 million cans of beer annually — most to residents of the Pine Ridge reservation.

Liquor is banned on the reservation, but it is just across the border in South Dakota, within walking distance of Whiteclay.

“This issue has been addressed over and over and over again and nothing really has been accomplished,” Theresa Two Bulls, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, told lawmakers late last week. “We want solutions and we want to work with you.

“Now is the time to come together. … We need to stop pointing fingers.”

Two Bulls said the tribal council wants an additional tax on beer sold in Whiteclay, with revenues going toward a detox center and possibly a homeless shelter. The council also agreed that alcohol should not be sold in Whiteclay on Sundays and during holidays, she said.

Other residents of Pine Ridge and those who work with alcoholics also said there is a need for a detox center. Such a center, they said, might prevent some of the more dangerous health problems associated with the rampant alcoholism that exists there.

The reservation has one of the country’s highest alcoholism-related mortality rates in the country. Terryl Blue-White Eyes, director of an alcohol treatment program at Pine Ridge, called it “worse than a third-world country.”

She said a detox center is sorely needed and more money should go to training people to treat alcoholism.

The problems in Whiteclay and the village’s complicated ties to the nearby reservation have vexed politicians, local American Indians and activists for more than a decade.

Jurisdictional issues complicate things, and problems in the area – where people are often passed out drunk on the sidewalks or begging for beer money – have been the subject of finger-pointing for years.

A member of the Oglala Sioux tribal council who has participated in Nebraska-led efforts to address problems in Whiteclay was skeptical that the new round of talks would do any good, saying it was another chance for officials to make it look like they were trying to help.

“Our people are dying and we keep repeating ourselves over and over and over,” said Lydia Bear Killer.

State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, chair of the committee leading the Whiteclay study, tried to dampen the skepticism. He and other lawmakers joined Attorney General Jon Bruning on a trip to Whiteclay early this year and came away from the visit convinced they should try to do something.

“We weren’t here at those other times,” Karpisek told Bear Killer. “We’re a whole new bunch of senators.”

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