Activists: Whiteclay protest ended peacefully

ASSOCIATED PRESS / January 01, 2013

A New Year’s Eve protest of beer sales in Whiteclay ended peacefully with three of the Nebraska town’s four alcohol stores closing early and making very few late-night sales to Natives, activists said Tuesday.

Native activist Olowan Martinez said two of the four stores already had shut their doors when protesters arrived at 9 p.m. Monday, and a third closed at about 10 p.m. The stores usually close at midnight.

Martinez credited the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s police department and the new tribal president, Bryan Brewer, for setting up an alcohol checkpoint between Whiteclay and South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned. In August, several activists were arrested after they locked arms and blocked the main road through town.

“We’re very grateful,” said Martinez, of Porcupine, S.D. “Once people realized that the police were working with us, things went really well. The energy was good. Not even 50 cars went through town, and they searched everyone who was coming back through (to the reservation).”

Critics blame Whiteclay for alcoholism and bootlegging on the reservation. The town has about a dozen residents, but its alcohol stores sold the equivalent of 4.3 million 12-ounce cans of beer last year. The surrounding area is known as a hangout for panhandlers who sleep in abandoned buildings and along the streets.

Martinez said the New Year’s Eve protest, announced in advance, drew a crowd of about 15. Protesters marched through town three times, while local law enforcement kept watch.

A dispatcher for the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office in Nebraska confirmed Tuesday that the protest ended without incident. Phone messages left Tuesday with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Department of Public Safety were not immediately returned.

Protester Autumn Two Bulls, a tribe member from Oglala, S.D., said the town was unusually quiet when the group arrived, and only a handful of customers went into State Line Liquor, the store that stayed open until midnight.

“It was like a ghost town,” Two Bulls said. “I like seeing that.”

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