Come see beautiful ‘skid row of Plains’

Published Wednesday February 4, 2009
BY ROBERT NELSON
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

Whiteclay, Nebraska.

Plan your summer vacation now. Come see the Good Life in action.

Beautiful Whiteclay.

Come for the high-gravity malt liquor. Stay because you’re too drunk to move.

This is where I am now: Sitting in a theater in Lincoln, watching a documentary about the little village with the film’s director, all the while creating mock Nebraska tourism ads in my head.

It happens in this business: The earnest efforts of youth decay into passive black humor. It happens because of stories like Whiteclay.

Fourteen years ago, I was full of righteous anger, eager to tell the story of Whiteclay so the good people of Nebraska would shut down this abomination once and for all.

I spent a lot of strange hours in that place in 1995 trying to figure it out. Why does this place exist? What effect does this have on the Lakota Sioux? Whose fault is it? What can be done?

Mark Vasina answers all those questions in his film, “The Battle for Whiteclay.”

You should see it because it takes you to Whiteclay, known as “The Skid Row of the Plains,” a place we as Nebraskans profit from (nearly $300,000 in alcohol sales taxes a year) by selling what is known to be a poison to the Lakota people living on the dry Pine Ridge Reservation just across the South Dakota border.

Lakota leaders fight to rebuild their community and culture. Nebraskans profit by undermining those efforts.

See this film and then see if you don’t come away feeling like you’re an accomplice to some unspeakable crime. Feeling like you cannot believe you’re witnessing a modern scene within the borders of the United States of America.

Vasina’s film takes you into the backrooms of Nebraska power, where our state legislators and state liquor commissioners continue to find ways to sidestep their moral duty.

It shows you how much better our law enforcement officials are at combating well-meaning protesters than the rampant and overt lawlessness being protested.

It shows those heroes — Sioux and non-Sioux — who continue to fight for the health and dignity of their fellow humans while weaker spirits turn to cynicism.

Perhaps even more important: “The Battle for Whiteclay” helps undermine perhaps the only legitimate argument for the existence of this horrid place: That shutting down Whiteclay will only push the problems of Whiteclay far down a dangerous road into northern Nebraska cities such as Gordon, Valentine and Chadron.

It is a belief held by many good people across the northern counties of Nebraska. They fear an increase of impaired drivers on the region’s highways.

More likely, the great distance would deter many from making the trip, especially the high percentage of Whiteclay regulars who don’t have vehicles.

Those who make the long trip would be daring to travel into areas with a much heavier law enforcement presence.

So bootlegging would increase. OK, authorities then could look at limiting alcohol sales. Then tribal police could focus on bootleggers.

And all of us could fight the problem together instead of looking the other way. Instead of allowing this brazen insult to our Lakota neighbors, this embarrassing boil on the face that Nebraska presents to the civilized world, to continue exactly as it has for so many painful years.

Free screenings of the movie, including discussions with the director, will be: 5 p.m. Feb. 8, Second Unitarian Church, 3012 S. 119th St. and 7 p.m. Feb. 18, McFoster’s NaturalKindCafe, 302 S. 38thSt.

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