Editorial: Patrols part of solution in Whiteclay

LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

The landmark agreement signed last week that will allow Pine
Ridge tribal police to patrol in the Nebraska village of
Whiteclay is a step on the path to reducing one of the state’s
worst alcohol problems.

Three stores in the little village sell about 11,000 cans of beer
a day. Most of the cans go to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe
who live across the state border on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The reservation has one of the nation’s highest
alcoholism-related mortality rates and other related problems,
such as a high incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome.

The new enforcement program will support the sobriety movement
that has taken root on the reservation. Drawing on their own
culture, a growing number of Lakota are finding the resources to
fight the alcoholism that has plagued the tribe for decades.

Although alcohol is banned on the reservation, much of the beer
purchased in Whiteclay makes its way to the reservation through
back roads.

“If we stop the flow of alcohol, it will make a significant
difference, no matter how you cut it,” said Cecilia Fire Thunder,
president of the Oglala Sioux.

In the past, enforcement has been weakened by jurisdictional
issues involving tribal law, two states and the federal
government.

Plans call for tribal officers to begin patrolling a
2-square-mile area around Whiteclay within weeks, according to
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, one of the Nebraska
officials who pushed the idea. Tribal officers also may set up
roadblocks on roads entering the reservation.

Instrumental in the agreement was $100,000 in federal funding
shepherded through Congress by Rep. Tom Osborne.

The tribal officers will supplement state and county officers who
will continue patrolling in the area.

Tribal and state leaders acknowledged that the agreement is only
a partial remedy to solving the longstanding problem. But they
hope it will lead to more effective cooperation in the future. “I
look at this as the first step toward creating a long-term
relationship,” Fire Thunder said.

As reported in the Journal Star special report “Standing at the
Crossroads” earlier this year, the alcohol sold at Whiteclay has
laid waste to thousands of lives. The added police patrols will
cut down on violence and public intoxication in the Whiteclay
area.

Ending the lawlessness in the little village is only a partial
solution. There are other ways that alcohol can make its way to
the reservation. But patrols by tribal police may be the biggest
step toward curbing alcohol abuse in Whiteclay that has been
taken yet.

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