Whiteclay issue stirs up dispute

Published April 15, 2005
BY ROBYNN TYSVER
OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN – The head of the Nebraska Democratic Party challenged Republican Gov. Dave Heineman on Thursday to “show leadership” on the issue of alcohol sales at Whiteclay.

Steve Achelpohl, party chairman, urged Heineman to appoint a task force to look for solutions to the problem of alcohol sales to Indians in the Nebraska village near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Heineman can provide some leadership on this subject,” Achelpohl said at a State Capitol press conference.

Heineman said he was not interested in forming a new task force. He said he would support an additional $20,000 to the Nebraska State Patrol to help do background checks on people who sell beer in Whiteclay.

He also said he trusts the patrol and the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, which are working on the issue.

“At this point, Governor Heineman is more focused on actions and progress and not another task force,” said Aaron Sanderford, the governor’s spokesman.

Alcohol sales in Whiteclay have been an issue for years. The village is about two miles from the officially dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where alcoholism and unemployment are rampant.

Three off-sale alcohol dealers in the village of 14 people cater to reservation residents.

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

Bills to prohibit alcohol sales near the reservation have died in previous legislative sessions.

Opponents of such efforts say there are no simple solutions, adding that if beer outlets in Whiteclay are closed, customers will drive 20 miles farther south to Rushville to make their alcohol purchases.

Frank LaMere of South Sioux City, an Indian activist, asked Nebraskans to take part in a June 11 march into Whiteclay to protest the exploitation of Indians in the village and to remember the two 1999 deaths.

LaMere said it was a “slap in the face of Native Americans and law enforcement” to argue that alcohol sales would move as a reason not to close beer sellers in Whiteclay.

Such an argument, he suggested, would not prohibit police from closing down a crack house in a city.

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