Pine Ridge Indian Reservation dry, alcohol comes in anyway

Published Monday July 5, 2010
BY RANDALL HOWELL (Native Sun News Managing Editor)

WHITE CLAY, Neb. –– They will be back like a bad hangover.

And, they’ll be setting up what has become known as the Whiteclay Blockade – a blockade that serves as a one-day barrier to what amounts to the smuggling of alcohol – beer, mostly – onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Yes, we’ll be there,” said Duane Martin Jr., one of the blockade’s founders in 1999. Martin said the blockade is scheduled to begin about 10 a.m. Thursday, July 1, just inside the South Dakota-Nebraska state line, which also serves as the reservation’s long-disputed southern boundary.

“It’ll last until the cops (Oglala Sioux Tribe’s law enforcement personnel) show up to take over,” said Martin, who has been joined over the years by such Indian activists as Russell Means and Frank LaMere.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Martin. “It is a proven fact the enemy – alcohol and drugs – is still out there.”

Designed to intercept alcohol – and drugs – coming onto the “dry” reservation from Whiteclay, which is about two miles from downtown Pine Ridge, the reservation’s largest city, the blockade involves a continuing appeal from members of the Strong Heart Society to establish official “weekly sobriety checks” along the roadway.

Whiteclay, an unincorporated village with a population of only 14, is about 200 feet from the disputed border and, activists insist, remains part of what is referred to as the White Clay Extension, a buffer zone of land first established in 1882 by then-President Chester A. Arthur.

It started out as a 50-square-mile buffer zone in Nebraska, south of and adjacent to the reservation, but was reduced by 49 square miles in 1904 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt. Initially, the White Clay Extension was set up at the urging of the U.S. Indian Agent and the Oglala Lakota elders “for the protection of reservations residents from illegal whiskey peddlers operating” in the area.

In 1889 and again in 1890, Congress enacted legislation “incorporating this buffer zone, known as the White Clay Extension, into the boundaries of the reservation,” according to a study guide published by Nebraska Wesleyan University.

“We are also still trying to regain the land,” said Martin, founder of Strong Heart Society. “It belongs to the Lakota. Elders and activists protested once they learned that it was created as part of the reservation to protect Indians against alcohol until the threat disappeared.”

The threat hasn’t disappeared, according to Martin. In fact, it’s increased, he said.

Strong Heart Society sets the checkpoint to intercept the illegal cross-border traffic smuggling contraband onto the reservation, where the transport, possession and drinking of alcohol is prohibited – and has been since its creation in the late 1800s.

Strong Heart Society first set up the blockade in 1999 – the last year of the 20th century and will be back for the 11th blockade of White Clay on July 1, 2010, according to Martin, whose nonprofit organization is known to provide reservation residents with food, clothing and furniture several times each year.

“We’ll be there again – all day – on the Fourth of July, stopping vehicles we suspect are carrying beer onto the reservation; drugs, too,” said Martin, a member of the American Indian Movement who lives near Sharpes Corner.

Whiteclay, which today sports four off-sale beer retailers – Arrowhead Inn, State Line Liquors, Mike’s Pioneer and Jumping Eagle Inn – with “the help of 555 Christian Ministries,” operated by the Rev. Bruce Bonflour in what was the old H&M Grocery Store.

“He knew White Clay has been a death trap,” said Martin. “He opened a soup kitchen there, saying that it gives our people a place to eat. At first, there were only seven to 10 people. Bonflour said he was working to sober up our drunks.”

“God forbid a non-Indian ever dies in White Clay. That will shut that place down,” Martin said. “But when it’s an Indian, they say: ‘Oh, they’re just a bunch of drunken Indians anyway.”

Martin said the drunks in White Clay are not homeless, and they don’t need an excuse to be in White Clay. Martin said now “you can see anywhere from 25 to 100 people there – young people, young couples with children, elders and pregnant women in what used to be a super Christian academy.”

“His (Bonflour’s) real purpose is to gain monetary profits from Lakota people,” Martin said.

“Reservation gangs go there to settle their differences,” said Martin, who also told Native Sun News that he had served liquor retailers with federal complaints for the illegal sales of alcohol to Pine Ridge residents.

“They are not homeless,” said Martin, indicating that most of the drinkers could go easily go home, but the food keeps them. “My people are hungry. People don’t understand hungry. Once they eat, the beer keeps them” in White Clay.

“What do we have to do? He’s got the innocent, the poor people and the hungry,” said Martin, showing some weariness from the 10-year sobriety battle. “We have to start banging back.”

Martin said he hopes the reservation’s police force shows up to help with the blockade.

“Last year, we got cooperation from Pine Ridge (cops),” Martin said, noting that Tribal Police Chief Everette Little White Man, Capt. Ron Duke and Lt. Alex Morgan participated.

“We stop cars and ask about alcohol,” he said. “If they have it, we tell law enforcement. We confiscate it, and any drugs we find. We have no arrest authority.”

Martin said it always is a “test” for his blockade volunteers – all Strong Heart Society members.

“They throw beer cans at us and garbage,” he said.

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