Going the extra mile on Whiteclay

Published June 3, 2005

Rep. Tom Osborne and Attorney General Jon Bruning should be commended for their efforts to do something about the disgrace of Whiteclay.

Other officials in the state of Nebraska should follow their example by putting the state tax money generated from beer sales in the tiny village into programs aimed at stopping the alcohol abuse.

As documented in the Journal Star special report Standing at the Crossroads three stores at Whiteclay sell about 11,000 cans of beer a day, putting more than $300,000 a year in the state treasury, counting both sales and excise taxes. Public intoxication and violence are common.

Bruning and Osborne went into action after Bruning received an e-mail that a proposed agreement that would allow tribal police from the Pine Ridge Reservation to cite or arrest those who violate Nebraska law was in danger of being rejected by the tribal government.

Although the proposed agreement would have been supplied with $100,000 in federal funds pushed through Congress by Osborne, tribal leaders apparently feared that sum would not be enough. They originally had requested $250,000.

Worried that the agreement might fall through and the money be returned to the federal treasury, Bruning and Osborne flew to Pine Ridge this week to appear personally at a meeting of tribal leaders.

“I feel so badly about what is happening in Whiteclay,” Osborne said. Bruning said that tribal officers could help him build a case against store owners for violating state liquor laws.

After the two officials pleaded their case, tribal leaders voted 13-2 to accept the agreement that will allow tribal officers to patrol the town. The officers will transport those they arrest and detain to the Sheridan County Jail in Rushville.

The new enforcement program by itself won’t put an end to the ravages of alcohol abuse at Whiteclay and Pine Ridge. But the new enforcement program could complement and support the sobriety movement that has taken root at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Using ceremonies and beliefs the Lakota have carried with them for centuries, a growing number of tribal members are finding the strength in themselves and their culture to defeat alcoholism.

By attacking the tragedy of alcohol abuse on many fronts progress can be made. Over the years the state of Nebraska has taken in millions of dollars from alcohol sales in Whiteclay. It’s encouraging that a few officials such as Osborne and Bruning are stepping forward to combat the problem. Other officials should follow their example. More can be done.

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