‘Little ray of hope’ for Whiteclay
Published Tuesday April 27, 2010
BY PAUL HAMMEL
LINCOLN — Officials hope a weekend cleanup in the notorious border town of Whiteclay, Neb., will lead to more cleanups and a renewed effort to increase law enforcement.
About 50 volunteers removed nearly four binfuls of trash during a rainy “Cleansing of the Land” event Saturday.
Last Thursday, the Omaha-based Food Bank for the Heartland handed out about 1,500 pounds of food to residents of Whiteclay and the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just across the state line in South Dakota.
“We saw a lot of optimism and hope,” said State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, Neb., one of four state lawmakers at the Thursday event. “I know it’s very small steps. But a little ray of hope helps out.”
Attorney General Jon Bruning, who organized a state flight for the food handout, said Monday he plans to explore revival of a plan to cross-deputize Pine Ridge police to enforce laws in Whiteclay.
“The state believes that any additional law enforcement presence in Whiteclay, state or tribal, can only help the situation,” Bruning said.
In 2005, then U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne obtained $200,000 in federal funds to cross-train Pine Ridge officers to write tickets across the state line. But the idea fell flat when officials said tribal officers could not meet qualifications to become Nebraska law enforcement officers.
Karpisek, who also visited Whiteclay with Bruning in 2009, said there seems to be a new willingness to pursue a cross-deputization agreement.
Law enforcement has been a continuing problem in Whiteclay, an unincorporated village of less than 20 people that sits 22 miles from the nearest law enforcement office, the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office in Rushville, Neb.
The town’s four beer stores sell more than 3 million cans of beer a year, mostly to residents of the adjacent reservation, where possession of alcoholic beverages is illegal. Some activists have pushed for years to close the beer stores.
Bruce Bon Fleur, a local minister who organized the cleanup, said the results were “amazing” despite the rainy weather. Among the volunteers were about 10 people who live on the streets of Whiteclay, Bon Fleur said.
He said he hopes to continue the momentum by opening a greenhouse in town next month and opening a day-labor business and a recycling operation in June.
“I think we’ve transitioned from a debate about how bad everything is in Whiteclay to a discussion of how it can be better,” Bon Fleur said.
His ABOUT Group obtained a $30,000 federal stimulus grant to help start the businesses, and the Attorney General’s Office granted $10,000 to finance the cleanup.
The cleanup work included an April 16 visit by students from Gordon-Rushville schools and the Red Cloud School in Pine Ridge, S.D. They planted trees and painted a building that is slated to become the recycling center, Bon Fleur said.
About 300 people attended the Thursday event, including State Sens. Brad Ashford of Omaha, Colby Coash of Lincoln and LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth.
Brian Barks, a spokesman for Food Bank for the Heartland, said Sheridan County is among the 77 Nebraska counties served by the agency, which was formerly called the Omaha Food Bank.