Blatant injustice feeds river of alcohol in Whiteclay

Published August 12, 2004
BY MARK KARPF, General studies graduate student

This will be the 65th time I’ve written for the Daily Nebraskan, and I’m proud to say I’ve not once repeated myself. However, certain situations have arisen and I feel I must once again address the issue of Whiteclay, Nebraska.

For those of you who don’t know, Whiteclay is an almost nonexistent hamlet in the far reaches of northwestern Nebraska. With a population of only 14 it’s lucky it’s even on a map. The nearest Nebraska town of Rushville is about 30 miles away, but the Pine Ridge Reservation of southern South Dakota is right across the state line and Pine Ridge, the reservations largest town, is only 10 miles away.

The Pine Ridge Reservation covers just a few thousand square miles in the Badlands of South Dakota. This sliver of land is all the indigenous American Indians got after the United States completed their de facto genocide against them.

After the reservation was established, laws were legislated to ban the sale or possession of alcohol on the reservation. And soon after, the ever-greedy white settlers set up shop in Nebraska and immediately began selling alcohol to the “prisoners” of the dry reservation.

So from the very beginning the community of Whiteclay was not established to hold people together. Whiteclay was established to profit off the disease of alcoholism.

Attempts were made in the late 1800’s to form a buffer zone to keep the whites away from the reservation. But the law only lasted a few years when President Theodore Roosevelt repealed it in 1904.

The last 100 years have been a crystal clear testament to how horrible and devastating alcoholism truly is.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest pockets in America. It has one of the highest suicide rates for not only Native Americans, but for America itself. The unemployment rate flirts with 100 percent and any and all crime runs rampant. Including, but not limited to, murder, child and spousal abuse, drunk driving and theft.

All of this is a direct effect of alcohol and the sadness it can bring, not only to a community but also to a people and their way of life.

Currently Whiteclay has three liquor licenses awarded to three beer outlets that sell only off-sale beer. There were four beer outlets in town, however the owner of the Arrowhead Inn lost his license when convicted of selling used cars without a license; a class IV felony.

According to an Aug. 6 article in the Omaha World-Herald the owner of the Arrowhead Inn has appealed his liquor license denial and will be heard August 27th. The Liquor Control Commission has already denied his son’s bid to take over the license.

In the absence of the Arrowhead Inn, Chadron resident Thomas Bernard applied for a liquor license in June of 2004 to sell only off-sale beer.

On Tuesday, August 10th, 2004 the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission finally did something right in Whiteclay, Nebraska. They denied Bernard’s bid to open a new liquor store.

The beer outlets of Whiteclay sell about 4 million cans of beer a year, now I’m not a big fan of math, but lets break that down:

That’s about 11,000 cans of beer sold every day. A yearly total equal to giving every Nebraska resident about 2½ beers, or giving every Nebraska panhandle resident about 50 beers, or giving every one in Whiteclay, Nebraska 285,714 beers.

Now if that last figure is not a problem I don’t know what is.

Because the beer outlets of Whiteclay are not selling beer, they’re selling alcoholism.

And as bad as alcoholism is, as bad as profiting from a disease is, as bad as the Native Americans have been treated; it’s so much worse that the state of Nebraska provided not one, not two, not three, but at times four liquor licenses to sell alcoholism directly to the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The citizens of Nebraska are not benefiting from the licenses the Liquor Control Commission has awarded; I dare say anyone has benefited from the licenses except those who hold them and the coffers of the Nebraska state treasury.

To be honest, as a Nebraskan, I’m embarrassed.

Like I said earlier, I’ve made this argument before, I’ve heard all of the contention.

I don’t care if alcoholism is such a griping affliction that if you shut down Whiteclay the victims will travel further down the road to fuel their disease.

If that’s your argument than it serves logic to just move the alcohol a foot from the imaginary line that demarks the reservation and the land to curb the drunk driving.

I don’t care if you say it’s their choice.

Because if that’s what you think then you’ve never had an accident and you’ve never had a disease.

I don’t care if it’s wrong to feel guilty about providing a service to a need.

If that’s your defense then you’ve truly been corrupted by the idea of capitalism.

What has taken place in Whiteclay, Nebraska over the past 100 years is nothing short of the slow murder of not one, not two, but thousands of lives and an entire culture.

This social injustice has been going on for way too long and it must be amended. The Liquor Control Commission, the State Legislature, and the citizens of Nebraska need to do the right thing.

We need to shut down the ability of a few people to destroy the lives of an entire nation.

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