State funding for Whiteclay evaporates

Published Thursday March 11, 2010
THE READER (Omaha, Neb.)

For Native American activists and advocates, Nebraska’s response to rampant alcoholism in the small town of Whiteclay has been too little, too late. The “skid row on the prairie” has gained national notoriety over the past decade as a beer-drenched, poverty-stricken trouble spot. Those waiting for state lawmakers to take action will have to wait a bit longer a bill that sought to address some problems there was watered down after lawmakers cited another tough budget year ahead.

At issue is the small town’s four beer stores and their immediate proximity to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which does not permit alcohol consumption. The stores sell an average of 3.2 million cans of beer annually to the Oglala Sioux, while crime, public drunkenness, and beer purchased for resale on the reservation persists. Due to a lack of funding, police presence in Whiteclay is low, and the troubled reservation has slashed its own law enforcement ranks over the years.

Sens. LeRoy Louden of Alliance and Russ Karpisek of Wilber proposed a measure to put $250,000 towards combating Whiteclay’s troubles, each year for seven years. The bill provide additional funds for law enforcement in the area, support economic development projects for local residents, and contribute funding toward a detox center. The funds would be administered by the state Commission on Indian Affairs.

“ It doesn’t cost a huge amount of money, but it would help a lot,” Louden told The Reader.

Opponents labeled it “feel good money” that wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on the problems reflected in Whiteclay, and said the spending was inappropriate during a tough budget year. Opponents note that Nebraska could be facing revenue shortfalls in excess of $500 million in the next budget biennium. Louden said funding the bill shouldn’t be too burdensome.

In its current form, the bill would create an allocation that would be reviewed annually; money would be added to the fund whenever lawmakers chose. In the meantime, Louden said Pine Ridge residents are seeking private grants to get some projects off the ground.


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