Tribal police break up alcohol blockade

Published June 29, 2007

WHITECLAY, Neb. — At least four activists were arrested Thursday during a struggle between Oglala Sioux Tribal police and protestors attempting to set up a blockade to keep people from bringing alcohol from Whiteclay, Neb., into Pine Ridge Village.

Both sides started out Thursday with what they said was a common goal of keeping alcohol off the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where it has long been illegal.

The blockade began shortly after 11 a.m. and was stopped just minutes later when OST Police Chief James Twiss said the blockade was causing safety concerns.

Twiss said the way the activists conducted the blockade was dangerous.

The blockade was led by Duane Martin Sr. of the Strong Heart Civil Rights Movement of the Teton Oglala Cante Tenza and Mark Vasina of Nebraskans for Peace.

Martin, Vasina and at least a dozen other activists stood in the middle or on the sides of the highway.

“We support what they’re trying to accomplish, but we can’t let it go because of safety issues,” Twiss said. “If something happens and someone doesn’t stop or someone gets run over, we’re (law enforcement) going to be responsible.”

Twiss said earlier this week he discussed ways to conduct the blockade but never finalized an agreement. He said one way the activists could handle it is to take photos of actions and license plate numbers of people purchasing alcohol in Whiteclay and driving it across the border. Then, Twiss said, authorities might have reasonable cause to stop someone.

Martin, Twiss and Daniel Sheehan, an attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, discussed other ways of handling the blockade Thursday after Twiss ordered it stopped.

Talks went on for about 30 minutes and it seemed a peaceful resolution was in sight, but when Twiss and his officers ordered everyone off the sides of the highway, Martin allegedly put up a fight.

Law-enforcement officers said they warned Martin several times before arresting him.

Holding a traditional American Indian staff originally placed at the blockade site in a ceremonial manner, Martin struggled against at least eight law-enforcement officers, all the time yelling Lakota words.

As Martin was cuffed, longtime activist Russell Means got involved. It took several officers to wrestle Means to the ground where he was also cuffed.

Meanwhile, at least two other protesters: Deynon Means and David Moore were arrested without incident.

Those arrested were taken into custody on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Nebraska law-enforcement officers were stationed in Whiteclay but were not involved in breaking up the blockade, which took place on the reservation across the border in South Dakota.

Later, Shannon County Sheriff Jeffrey Not Help Him said another reason the blockade was stopped was that Martin, Vasina and other organizers did not give the proper two-day notice for holding it and did not have a permit.

Thursday morning, minutes before the blockade was set up, Martin said his goal was for it to be “peaceful and traditionally orchestrated.”

Although alcohol is illegal on Pine Ridge, it is easily accessible to those who live there because four businesses sell alcohol just feet away from the Pine Ridge Nebraska border.

Martin said it is destroying lives.

“This is a way to make everyone respond to it and see this is an epidemic,” he said before beginning Thursday morning’s blockade.

Martin said he also wants to see tougher sentences on people arrested for drug- and alcohol-related crimes on the reservation.

“We’ve got to get something done here,” he said. “Young people are being victims of this.”

Twiss said tribal law enforcement officers will conduct several alcohol checkpoints on the reservation over the next week in conjunction with the Fourth of July.

Even as the arguments went on, the alcohol issue was visible just yards away. There, a couple dozen people, many Pine Ridge residents, according to Martin, sat on the curb in front of liquor establishments, some of them with beer in hand.

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