Senators: More needs to be done at Whiteclay

Published June 10, 2005
BY KEVIN ABOUREZK
LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

A group of 15 state senators took a stand together Thursday, signing a letter in which they called upon the state of Nebraska to do more to address the devastating effects of alcohol sales in the border town of Whiteclay.

The letter was to be delivered to Oglala Sioux tribal leaders at a Saturday march from Pine Ridge, S.D., to Whiteclay to mark the sixth anniversary of the unsolved deaths of two Oglala men, said Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace.

The senators said those who purchase and consume alcohol in Whiteclay bear the responsibility of their own actions.

“We also recognize the State of Nebraska’s contribution to the misery caused in Whiteclay by its licensing of alcohol sales within 200 feet of a reservation which allows neither the sale nor consumption of alcoholic beverages upon its lands,” they said. Three beer stores in the unincorporated village sell thousands of cans of beer a day, mostly to tribal members from the nearby reservation, where alcohol is banned. Tribal and Nebraska activists have fought for years for tougher law enforcement in the town.

In the past six years, a number of state senators have traveled to Whiteclay to “witness firsthand the social and economic devastation caused by alcohol,” the senators said. But despite numerous proposals, efforts to shape a legislative response have been unsuccessful, they said.

They commended the Legislature for appropriating money to pay for undercover compliance checks by the Nebraska State Patrol in Whiteclay, as well as federal money recently secured to pay for tribal police to patrol the town.

“As policy-makers we recognize the need for greater efforts by Nebraska to stop the loss of lives and devastation occurring among our neighbors at Pine Ridge linked to alcohol sales in Whiteclay,” they said.

In September, Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., secured $100,000 from Congress to pay tribal police from Pine Ridge to patrol Whiteclay. Last week, the tribe approved a tentative agreement to send its officers into the town to enforce the law.

The tribe has since signed that agreement, said tribal secretary Rhonda Two Eagle.

Sen. Don Preister of Omaha, whose office circulated the letter among senators, said the focus should now be on bringing together government entities with jurisdiction in Whiteclay to discuss remedies.

“At this point we have tried legislation and the best we’ve done is provide additional funding for law enforcement, but that’s only part of the answer,” Preister said.

The senators offered no specific plans to address alcohol sales.

Lyman Red Cloud — the great-great grandson of the famed Oglala chief and a former tribal councilman — offered a few of his own.

“Somebody has to patrol Whiteclay at all times,” he said. “They need to arrest people. A lot of people are dying on that road (between Whiteclay and the reservation).

“The responsibility is on the Nebraska side.”

He said the state of Nebraska should use the hundreds of thousands in tax dollars it reaps each year from beer sales in Whiteclay to pay for a halfway house for drinkers in the town.

“The boys,” he said, referring to tribal members who drink on the town’s streets, “they keep Whiteclay going. Some of that money needs to set up a shelter for them.”

But his wife, Summer Red Cloud, disagreed with the idea of a shelter in Whiteclay: “That’s sort of enabling the drinking.”

She said state officials should clean up the town through enforcement and by helping create businesses there that don’t sell alcohol. Ultimately, she said, beer sales should be banned in Whiteclay.

Vasina said he was hopeful having 15 state senators say they recognize the need for change could improve conditions in the town.

“I think that’s pretty significant,” he said. “We’ll see what happens at the next legislative session.”

Reporter Nate Jenkins contributed to this report.

Senators who signed

Senators who signed the letter Thursday saying more needed to be done to address alcohol problems in Whiteclay included: Don Preister, Matt Connealy, Gwen Howard, Marian Price, John Synowiecki, DiAnna Schimek, Lowen Kruse, Roger Wehrbein, Ernie Chambers, Ray Aguilar, David Landis, Chris Beutler, Nancy Thompson, Abbie Cornett and Mike Friend.

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