“We need to keep the booze out…”

Published Tuesday July 6, 1999

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Within about 24 hours of reopening, beer store owners
in Whiteclay, near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, shut
their doors again Monday afternoon.

Nebraska law enforcement officers had asked all businesses in Whiteclay,
including those that sell beer, to shut down Friday to avoid conflict with
native people who protested near the unincorporated town last weekend.
Several stores had reopened Sunday.

Recent tensions between native people and white merchants culminated with
some 650 people marching to Whiteclay on Saturday, the second protest in as
many weeks. Native people oppose the town’s annual sales of 4 million cans
of beer to residents of the dry reservation. The conflict heightened
recently after two tribal members, Wilson Black Elk and Ronald Hard Heart,
were found dead June 8 near Whiteclay.

Members of the American Indian Movement disapproved of the stores’
reopening and were planning another march to Whiteclay, Clyde Bellecourt,
AIM’s co-founder and national director, said Monday.

“We need to keep the booze out of here, and we need to keep it from killing
our people,” Bellecourt said. “We need to put food in our children’s mouths
instead of booze in someone’s belly.” He and fellow AIM leader Floyd Hand
vowed to set up tepees by Sunday evening in protest of continued beer
sales. They selected a site near the spot where Black Elk and Hard Heart’s
bodies were found in ditch west of Highway 87, just between Pine Ridge
village and Whiteclay.

Protesters plan to meet at the Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge village at 6
p.m. today to determine further courses of action.

Whiteclay store owners closed voluntarily around noon, said Sgt. Mike
Zitterkopf of the Nebraska State Patrol. The bars won’t reopen until after
President Clinton’s visit Wednesday, Zitterkopf said.

“They really didn’t want any more problems,” he said. “It’s not like they
were forced. It was a little bit of good sense and common sense.” For one
organizer of the recent protests, the temporary store closings aren’t enough.

“It’s good that they’re closed a few days this week, but we want them
closed permanently,” Tom Poor Bear said. “I’m still encouraging people to
patronize the small businesses that don’t sell alcohol.” Besides the
possibility of another protest, alcohol sales tapered off when Bureau of
Indian Affairs Superintendent Robert Ecoffey requested a sobriety
checkpoint at the Nebraska-South Dakota border. “He asked that we set up a
roadblock, and we did,” said Stanley Star Comes Out, the Oglala Tribe’s
chief of police.

The tribe’s officers set up a roadblock at 11:30 a.m. and shut it down at
3:45 p.m.

Ecoffey said the request was not unusual for a holiday weekend. He and Star
Comes Out said tribal police typically set up sobriety checkpoints during
holidays or tribal events.

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