Protesters file complaint over beer sales to Native Americans in Whiteclay

By JOE DUGGAN / OMAHA WORLD-HERALD / May 24, 2013

LINCOLN — Activists working to end alcohol sales to Native Americans in Whiteclay, Neb., filed a formal complaint Friday against one of the town’s beer store owners.

But before one activist could discuss the complaint with news media, he was arrested on recent charges that he threatened a beer delivery worker in the northwestern border town.

It was yet another turn in the ongoing struggle over alcohol sales in Whiteclay, which lies just south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Four off-sale stores in Whiteclay sell close to 4 million cans of beer annually, mostly to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which bans alcohol on its reservation.

The Nebraska State Patrol on Friday arrested T.R. McKenzie, 33, of Jefferson, S.D., on a felony charge of making terroristic threats against a beer truck driver in Whiteclay.

He also faces four misdemeanor charges related to the May 3 incident.

McKenzie has been participating in a month-long protest that aims to shut down beer sales in Whiteclay.

Protesters, who are staying in a teepee camp on the reservation, say the town fuels alcohol addiction, which leads to widespread violence, health problems and alcohol mortality among the Oglala people.

McKenzie and others came to Lincoln Friday to file a complaint with the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.

The complaint alleged that on May 15, the owner of one of the stores provided baseball bats to men who were drinking outside the store and urged them to assault two women who had come into town from the protest camp. Other protesters protected the women, and no one was hurt.

“I have serious concerns for the safety of the women and children at the camp based on what I have personally witnessed,” McKenzie wrote in the complaint.

Hobert Rupe, director of the commission, said the allegations would be forwarded to the State Patrol for investigation.

“It causes me great concern,” Rupe said Friday. “The commission takes violence of all sorts very seriously.”

Deputy Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons said the incident also has been reported to the Sheridan County sheriff. But she said she has not yet seen a report to decide whether charges are warranted.

Frank LaMere of South Sioux City, Neb., a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska who has long campaigned against alcohol sales in Whiteclay, called McKenzie’s arrest an attempt to silence the messenger.

While in Lincoln Friday, LaMere delivered a letter urging Gov. Dave Heineman to take action.

“I think the laws are there right now to go into Whiteclay and shut it down,” he said.

He also called the situation in Whiteclay a “tinderbox,” alluding to the mounting frustration of those working to end alcohol-related misery on the reservation.

Evidence of the frustration can be found in the confrontations of two beer trucks earlier this month. During the first incident, one of the drivers said a knife was brandished and he was warned he would be killed if he continued to deliver beer to Whiteclay, according to the prosecutor. In addition, windows were smashed and tires slashed.

A warrant was issued for McKenzie’s arrest Thursday, Simmons added.

She said that warrants have been issued for at least one other person and that the investigation into the vandalism cases continue.

State and county law enforcement agencies maintained a heavy presence in the town earlier this week as beer deliveries were made.

McKenzie denies participating in the vandalism, said Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans For Peace, a group that has called for the end of beer sales in Whiteclay.

Vasina said he hopes authorities will investigate the claims against the store owner as vigorously as they have the truck vandalism incidents.

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