Tribe seeks to limit beer sales at Whiteclay


The Oglala Sioux Tribe is asking a federal court to limit alcohol sales in a small Nebraska town that sells nearly 5 million cans of beer a year.

The tribe’s attorney, former state senator Tom White of Omaha, amended a lawsuit Friday that was filed Feb. 9 in U.S. District Court in Lincoln. The amendment asks the court to limit beer sales in Whiteclay to an amount “that can reasonably be consumed in accordance with the laws of the State of Nebraska and the (tribe).”

“The defendants have failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the State of Nebraska and the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” White said in a press release.

The amended lawsuit alleges Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has said the state is not likely to enforce laws regulating beer sales in Whiteclay. The lawsuit claims the tribe has “no adequate remedies at law to protect its federally granted rights” to protect its sovereignty or enforce its laws banning alcohol.

David Cookson, chief deputy attorney general, said the state will continue to enforce liquor laws in Whiteclay.

“We always have and will continue to work with law enforcement to enforce state liquor laws,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is political silly season and former Democrat congressional nominee Tom White injecting politics into this issue is counterproductive.”

Pine Ridge, S.D., a town of about 3,300 people, sits a few hundred feet from Whiteclay, a town of just 10 residents, where drunken people can be seen sitting under awnings most days. It’s that proximity and the sale of millions of cans of beer a year, mostly to the reservation’s 40,000 residents, that has fueled indignation among tribal members and Native advocates for years.

The tribe is seeking $500 million from more than a dozen defendants, ranging from the dusty beer shacks in Whiteclay to the nation’s largest breweries. The tribe is claiming beer sales have caused a host of problems on its reservation, including babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome and teenagers who commit suicide.

The tribe alleges the defendants violated the tribe’s alcohol ban as well as Nebraska law by providing alcohol to the reservation’s residents, knowing those residents would resell much of that beer to other residents on the reservation.

“Virtually all of this beer is sold to a population that has no legal place to drink it,” said Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace. “Much of the beer is bootlegged onto the Pine Ridge for illegal resale.”

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