A sensible path forward

Published Thursday January 14, 2010

Proposals for Pine Ridge/Whiteclay

Two committees of the Nebraska Legislature are putting forward worthwhile ideas that have the potential to relieve some of the misery that has long held the Pine Ridge Reservation in its grasp.

It’s a welcome sign of progress — if leaders seize the moment. And government alone isn’t the only tool. Support from nonprofits and private donors could make a crucial difference.

No one should imagine that the alcoholism and despair will be magically banished, of course. But it’s time to move forward with a serious plan of collaborative action.

Fortunately, the groundwork was laid last year for needed consensus-building. Leaders of impressive goodwill and dedication — representatives from the Legislature, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission and Attorney General Jon Bruning — undertook a focused look at the Pine Ridge/Whiteclay problem.

And now two committees — General Affairs and Judiciary — have issued their interim report and offered recommendations and options.

There are many options, and not all the suggestions will prove viable. But as a whole, they indicate a constructive way forward. The key is promoting agreement along several fronts: — Social needs . Strengthen alcoholism treatment.

Provide day labor. Create a safe house for children whose parents are abusing alcohol or drugs.

— Law enforcement . Create workable mechanisms for law enforcement and investigation.

— Regulation . Look at options for further regulations on beer sales in Whiteclay. Such a step would provide no complete solution, of course, since the main need is to address the alcoholism and economic anguish on the reservation.

The way forward will involve collaboration and discussion. It’s true that Nebraska, South Dakota and federal officials have discussed Pine Ridge before.

But this time, with the proper leadership around a coherent, collaborative strategy, progress can come within grasp.

This is a test of leadership encompassing state and federal officials, nonprofits and private donors. With a common effort, we can make the vital first steps toward alleviating a social catastrophe.

When Nebraskans look back decades from now on 2010, it would be tremendous if this year is remembered as the turning point, at last, toward pragmatic action on the Pine Ridge/Whiteclay issue. Now is the time to make that new beginning.

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