Thoughts from White Clay … by Lance Morgan

Published Thursday April 15, 2010

I recently sat on a panel discussing White Clay, Nebraska, which is tiny town just a mile from the Pine Ridge Reservation. The town of White Clay only has four full time residents, but it’s claim to fame is that it sells over 4 million cans of beer a year. Obviously, the beer is sold to members of the local tribe, which is technically a dry reservation.

This issue has always been kind of embarrassing to me. I hate how this is publicized because it reinforces one of the stereotypes about Indians. However, the more I thought about it while sitting on that panel, the more it occurred to me that we shouldn’t be embarrassed. It is the federal and state governments that should be embarrassed for forcing us into economic desperation. The kind of desperation that leads to a lack of hope which manifests itself in 4 million cans of beer.

I didn’t know why I was on the panel to be honest and I only intended to state that I thought that the alcoholism was a symptom of poverty and that if we created jobs and opportunity then it would change the underlying environment which leads to so many social problems. This observation is fairly obvious and simplistic, but it was all I had on the subject to be honest.

However, as I watched a few videos of the deplorable conditions on their rez and heard legal arguments about how Nebraska can’t shut down the beer sellers, even as they break Nebraska law–I got mad. I went on a bit of a rant to be honest.

I explained how this little beer town only operates because Nebraska law allows it to operate. But Nebraska won’t shut it down primarily because it would impact the economic rights of the 4 or 5 non-Indian business owners. These businesses do all kinds of things that are illegal under Nebraska law, but for some reason it just isn’t a big deal to the local justice system.

I explained that the social cost of this level of drinking far outweighs any profit from the beer sales, but in America we value economics in most instances over social issues–especially social issues of Native Americans. I was going to stop there, but then it occurred to me that the law is protecting the economic interests of non-Indians and their right to sell 4 million cans of beer, but the law doesn’t protect the economic rights of Tribes and Native Americans with the same zeal.

In fact, the law has no problem taking away Tribal economic rights. I brought up how the Black Hills were stolen from the Sioux. (After the speech one of my aunts in attendance came up to me and brought up the Black Hills again and added that not only did they steal it, “They carved in 4 white guys faces on it.”) I didn’t say it because it was too complex of an issue, but I was also thinking of the Pact Act and how it was specifically designed to hurt our economic interests. However, I did bring up how Nebraska partially canceled a financially lucrative tax compact with the Omaha Tribe when a Nebraska court ruled that Pender wasn’t on the reservation anymore. With a letter written to the Tribe, Nebraska took away approximately $300,000 a year in tax sharing payments and it didn’t seem to bother them a bit.

I brought up the Omaha compact, because I wanted to show Nebraska has no problem hurting tribal economic interests, but when it comes to non-Indians it is a different story. The underlying racism behind this type of disparate treatment is so obvious that no matter how it is rationalized it cannot be denied and it is why I am slowly becoming angry over the years. The good news is that I like to channel my anger into trying to figure out ways to create more jobs and income for the tribe! I figure that our success is the best medicine.

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One Response to “Thoughts from White Clay … by Lance Morgan”

  1. E. Kearney Says:

    Has anyone pointed out to the Feds just how much money it is costing them in BIA health funds to allow 4 white owned businesses to continue to exist as they do? From the stats. given on the video, you should be able to come up with an eye opening plan to save money for the Feds by closing these places down and making a fifty mile no sale zone around the res.
    Follow the money! it will lead you to who is really behind the profit that these stores make off of Native American blood.
    Has 60min. done a piece on this?
    How about 20/20
    You need to get their interest into this to bring it to the attention of the feds on how the tax dollar is being wasted.
    I know that sounds like I don’t care – I do! I just know that the people in charge never care unless you hit them in the pocket book.

    Also, has anyone done a wind energy study on Pine Ridge? I think the wind could sing for the Sioux, especially with the green programs being pushed by this admin. – I see a nice opportunity for a grant program for installation and training for the tribal members. I just don’t know how to write a grant at this time – I’m learning!
    Are their any grants for earth bags or straw bale houses on the res.? This would promote employment and energy savings for the tribal members.
    Are their any grants for well drilling units on the res., so that all have water without having to haul it? Another opportunity for employment and safe drinking water for tribal members.
    As anyone in the tribal gov. ever contacted the Salish and Kootenai Confed. tribes in Pablo, MT. They are amazing on how organized they are when dealing with issues such as this one.

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