Act urgently on Whiteclay

Published Sunday August 29, 2010
BY RICK GALUSHA
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD (Midlands Voices)

Nebraskans are shocked to learn that a portion of the second-poorest area in the entire Western Hemisphere lies within our state, in the area that includes the Pine Ridge Reservation. Consider the following figures from the 2002-03 edition of Regional Differences in Indian Health, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

>> The age-adjusted alcoholism death rates in the Reservation area are nearly 17 times higher than the national population mean (108.7 per 100,000 people versus 6.7 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted tuberculosis death rates in the Reservation area are eight times higher than the national population mean (2.4 per 100,000 versus 0.3 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted diabetes mellitus death rates in the Reservation area are more than five times higher than the national population mean (68.7 per 100,000 versus 13.3 nationally).

>> The age-adjusted suicide rates in the Reservation area are nearly three times higher than the national population mean (29.7 per 100,000 versus 11.2 nationally).

Because a majority of the Pine Ridge Reservation lands are located within the borders of South Dakota, some suggest that this is a state sovereignty issue. However, the effects spill into our state, including the numerous medical and legal concerns that define Whiteclay, Neb., (population 14).

Whiteclay’s four package stores sell the equivalent of more than 3 million cans of beer annually. Adult alcoholism rates on Pine Ridge have been estimated to exceed 65 percent.

In an era when bitterness can define the political landscape, our Legislature passed a modest bill this year. In July, the Douglas County Republican Party passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a committee to seek viable solutions for the extreme poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Independently, later that month, the Nebraska Democratic Party passed an identical resolution. This solution-seeking-committee would consist of the governors of Nebraska and South Dakota as well as the president of the Lakota Sioux Nation.

While the choice of sobriety is an individual decision, there are several things Nebraskans can do to provide hope:

>> Demand enforcement of existing Nebraska laws in Whiteclay, Neb.

>> Empower our elected officials to begin seeking long-term solutions to this extreme poverty, including calling upon the government of South Dakota to participate.

>> Create awareness by sharing this commentary with family members, friends, co-workers and congregants.

>> Take specific action by sending letters and e-mails and placing telephone calls to elected officials.

>> Use social networking to enhance awareness.

>> Contact the Whiteclay awareness committee (WhiteclayAwareness@gmail.com) to schedule a speaker and-or show the film “The Battle for Whiteclay.” (Include schools, civic or business organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques or living rooms.)

This nonpartisan issue is gaining momentum. Readers of the New Testament will recognize the passage, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” It would be a moral failure for Nebraskans to allow this misery to continue.

To quote Edmund Burke, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

The writer is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Bellevue University. He is assistant director for the university’s Center for American Visions and Values.

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