Headway made in Whiteclay

Published Sunday February 6, 2005

LINCOLN – After six years, some progress is being made in the battle to rein in alcohol-related problems at Whiteclay, Neb., two activists say.

“I think we have people’s attention in a way we haven’t before,” said Tim Rinne, a spokesman for Lincoln-based Nebraskans for Peace.

Rinne and Mark Vasina, the organization’s president, said that not only has U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne obtained $100,000 for additional law enforcement in the border town, but they see a good chance the Nebraska Legislature will pass a bill making it easier to deny liquor licenses there and elsewhere.

Plus, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission has twice rejected licenses in Whiteclay in the past year.

Rinne and Vasina commented after a Friday showing of a 30-minute documentary video about the border town of 14 residents, which has three liquor stores that sell 11,000 cans of beer a day.

Almost all of those sales are to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where alcoholism and unemployment are rampant.

Nebraskans for Peace and American Indian activists have actively sought changes in Whiteclay since 1999, when two men who frequented the liquor stores were found slain outside of town.

Little has changed despite widespread publicity.

But in November, Osborne obtained funding so that tribal police can begin patrolling across the border in Whiteclay, which is about two miles from tribal headquarters.

A cross-deputization agreement with the State of Nebraska is expected to be approved by the tribe next month.

While the two activists cautioned that it was only a one-year appropriation, the funding removed a roadblock to additional patrols.

On Monday, the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Legislative Bill 530, which would give the state liquor commission greater latitude to deny licenses, for instance if an area were oversaturated with liquor outlets.

Hobert Rupe, executive director of the commission, said the board currently can only deny a license if serious legal violations are found. He said the bill is aimed at a number of situations where the commission felt powerless to deny a license, not just Whiteclay.

Currently, an appeal is pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court over one of the liquor licenses rejected by the commission.

LB 530 was introduced by the General Affairs Committee on behalf of the liquor commission. That, coupled with the broader interests backing the bill, gives LB 530 a good chance to pass, the activists said.

Bills aimed specifically at Whiteclay have failed to advance for consideration by the full Legislature the past four years.

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