Gov. Johanns to discuss Whiteclay alcohol issues with tribal officials

Published Tuesday June 5, 2001
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Mike Johanns will meet June 11 with Oglala Sioux tribal leaders in an effort to solve alcohol-related problems at Whiteclay.

The purpose of the meeting will be to address concerns over annual sales of nearly 4 million cans of beer from four stores in Whiteclay, an unincorporated village just over the Nebraska border from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Tribal leaders claim nearly all the beer is sold to residents of the reservation, where alcohol possession is banned.

American Indian advocates have asked the state for several years to revoke the store’s liquor licenses. Allegations have been made that Whitecaly is a haven for liquor law violations and other illegal activities.

The village has been the focus of marches by American Indian activists and supporters angry over the alcohol problems and the deaths of Pine Ridge residents in and around Whiteclay. Tribal leaders have announced plans for a June 9 protest march at the village.

Complaints about inaction by state officials prompted a February request for the meeting. No licenses have been revoked, but the Nebraska State Patrol has increased enforcement efforts.

Mike Coomes, owner of Mike’s Pioneer Service, pleaded guilty in April to selling alcohol to an intoxicated person Feb. 19 and had his liquor license suspended for 20 days.

The State Patrol wrote tickets against at least two other stores in the spring and dozens of tickets have been written for public intoxication, drinking in public and trespassing.

Those enforcement efforts have raised the ire of some business leaders in Rushville, which is 20 miles south of Whiteclay on Nebraska Highway 87, said Rushville City Councilman Terry Hinn.

Some of the law enforcement actions, such as road stops, have disrupted Rushville’s business with the reservation, Hinn said, and many residents believe the state is over-reacting with the extra patrols.

Johanns and Lt. Gov. Dave Maurstad are scheduled to meet in Lincoln with tribal President John Yellowbird Steele, Chief Oliver Red Cloud and others. The meeting will be mediated by Pascual Marquez of Justice Department’s Kansas City, Mo., office.

Representatives from the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, the state Health and Human Services System, the State Patrol and the Liquor Commission also will attend, said Tanya Cook, the governor’s assistant for urban affairs.

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