Thoughts from White Clay … by Lance Morgan
Published Thursday April 15, 2010
BY LANCE MORGAN
WINNEBAGO INDIAN NEWS
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.