Oglala activists plan alcohol blockade at Whiteclay

Organizers hope to last through the weekend
Published June 27, 2007
BY HEIDI BELL GEASE
RAPID CITY JOURNAL

A group of Oglala Lakota activists plans to stop cars traveling north from Whiteclay, Neb., Thursday, in hopes of preventing people from bringing alcohol onto Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The Strong Heart Civil Rights Movement of the Teton Oglala Cante Tenza say they have the blessing of the Black Hills Treaty Council, headed by traditional Chief Oliver Red Cloud.

“It’s a privilege when you cross over into the reservation, but it’s not your privilege to bring in alcohol and drugs,” said Duane Martin Sr., who helped organize the blockade.

Alcohol has long been illegal on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is home to about 16,500 people. But four stores in Whiteclay, just a few hundred feet from the reservation border, sell about 4 million cans of beer each year, mostly to American Indian patrons.

The Strong Heart Civil Rights Movement attempted a similar blockade last June but dropped the effort after Oglala Sioux Tribe Police Chief James Twiss agreed to try to find ways to stop the illegal flow of alcohol onto the reservation.

At the time, Twiss expressed concerns about safety should motorists choose not to stop for the blockade and about whether the blockade might violate people’s constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

This year, organizers plan to stop vehicles headed for the reservation, ask that they turn over any alcohol in the vehicle, and then dump it out at the checkpoint. No one has said what would happen if people refused to comply.

Martin said Pine Ridge police have “accepted” Thursday’s blockade, but the Rapid City Journal was unable to reach Twiss for comment.

Nebraskans for Peace will help with the blockade. Group president Mark Vasina sees the blockade as a way to raise the awareness of state and federal legislators, as well as Nebraska citizens, about what happens at Whiteclay.

Whiteclay businesses routinely sell beer to minors and bootleggers, Vasina said, and there are reports of young people trading sexual favors for alcohol. Law enforcement cannot or will not enforce the laws, he said.

“The problem in Whiteclay is not just that alcohol is sold there, but it’s the lawlessness surrounding its sale,” Vasina said. He agrees that eliminating beer sales in Whiteclay won’t prevent people from drinking but said it should be done, anyway. “You close down Whiteclay because it’s an illegal operation from top to bottom.

“Our position is Nebraskans have the primary responsibility for what goes on in Whiteclay,” he said. “This is a shame for Nebraska, that Whiteclay exists and is perpetuated.”

Nebraska Democratic Party State Chairman Steve Achelpohl issued a statement Wednesday supporting activists planning the blockade.

“Despite repeated requests from the Oglala Sioux Tribal government and the Treaty Council, Governor Dave Heineman and the state of Nebraska have failed to take action regarding this serious issue affecting the health and well-being of so many,” Achelpohl stated in the news release. “Continuing to dismiss the issue by saying the state is ‘looking into it’ is a slap in the face, not only to the people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but to all native people and to all Nebraskans.

“We call on Heineman to stop the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay today,” Achelpohl said.

Heineman could not be reached for comment. Calls to event organizer Russell Means also were not returned.

Organizers say the blockade will begin at 10 a.m. between Pine Ridge and Whiteclay. They hope to continue the operation at least through the weekend.

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