S.D. tribe to help enforce beer laws in Whiteclay

Published Thursday June 2, 2005
BY PAUL HAMMEL
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN – Lance Moss drove to his Whiteclay, Neb., grocery store last month and counted nearly 50 bedraggled men panhandling, drinking beers covered by paper sacks or just standing on the streets of the border town.

This is going to be a long summer, Moss told himself.

Maybe; maybe not.

On Tuesday, the tribal council of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota tentatively agreed to help enforce Nebraska laws across the state line in Whiteclay.

Whiteclay is an unincorporated Nebraska village where beer outlets sell more than 4 million cans a year, mostly to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Officials on Wednesday joined Moss in saying that the increased law enforcement, financed by a $100,000 federal grant, could help reduce drinking and lawlessness on Whiteclay’s streets.

But all agreed it is only a small step in a large, complicated problem.

“One hundred thousand dollars? That isn’t much money,” said Moss, owner of the Whiteclay Grocery. “But if it keeps the winos off the street, that would be great.”

Public drunkenness, rampant alcoholism on the nearby reservation and deaths, including two unsolved 1999 homicides, has focused a national spotlight on Whiteclay.

Last fall, Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., obtained a $100,000 federal appropriation to finance patrols from the Pine Ridge Tribal Police into Whiteclay.

Osborne said the idea was to stop unlawful sales of alcohol to inebriated customers and halt the transportation of beer across the state line to the reservation.

Two weeks ago, the tribe said it was rejecting the funding as inadequate. That led to a hastily arranged trip to the reservation Tuesday and a personal plea from Osborne and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning to accept the funding.

Bruning said he hadn’t expected the tribal council to take action. Then, as he and Osborne were walking out, the motion was made and approved.

“Congressman Osborne has given us the opportunity to have a pilot program,” Bruning said. “If we have some success, the (Nebraska) Legislature may be interested in aiding the policing of this area.”

Bruning said the state plans a public hearing in Thurston County, Neb., within the next month on a similar cross-deputization agreement with the Omaha Tribe.

He said tribal patrols in Whiteclay are not a panacea but a step in the right direction. Because of their familiarity with the area, he said, tribal police may be more effective than the Nebraska State Patrol, which has stepped up efforts in Whiteclay.

Tribal officials expressed concerns that their officers may be spread too thin if they have to patrol a hot spot like Whiteclay.

Rhonda Two Eagle, executive secretary of the tribe, said the tribe also wants to work out what will happen to juveniles who are apprehended in Whiteclay.

Robert Grey Eagle, legal counsel for the Pine Ridge Public Safety Department, said it’s unclear how his officers would be certified to enforce Nebraska laws.

But he hopes the added patrols will stem the flow of beer to the reservation and reduce alcohol-related problems.

“We’re very glad that Congressman Osborne and the attorney general took the initiative,” he said. “We realize it’s a starting point. We just have to hope for the best.”

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