Letter to Liquor Commission by former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey
Dated June 4, 2003
Nebraska Liquor Control Commission
I am writing on the occasion of this coming Saturday’s peaceful act of protest of the State of Nebraska’s decision to license the sale of alcoholic beverages in Whiteclay, Nebraska.
First of all, I have great respect for your willingness to serve as Commissioners and for the difficulty of your responsibilities. I know that you consider the questions that come before you with a serious desire to balance economic interests with the moral concerns our communities. It is in this spirit that I choose to write you.
As you know, Whiteclay lies on the border between South Dakota and Nebraska. More relevant to the protest is that White Clay lies a few hundred feet south of the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Nation. Who can deny the fact that the only reason the town of Whiteclay exists is to sell alcoholic beverages and other products containing alcohol to men and women who live at the Pine Ridge?
Our history tells us that alcohol is among the most destructive substances the native tribes have ever had the misfortune to consume. Tens of thousands of lives have been ruined by alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and accidents related to alcohol intolerance. The tragedy of alcohol is a visible to anyone who has taken the time to travel to visit with the Oglala Lakota people.
So serious is the threat that the leaders of the Oglala Lakota Nation have taken the extreme measure of banning the sale of alcohol on the Pine Ridge. In fact, their leaders have formally acted over 60 times to no avail, decrying the use and sale of alcohol by their people and their Nebraska neighbors. The Indian Health Service spends $8 to $9 million a year on health and accident problems related to alcohol abuse on the reservation. And South Dakota has been attentive to the needs and wishes of Tribal leaders regarding the granting of licenses on adjacent lands preventing a debacle like we in Nebraska are sanctioning at Whiteclay. All of this makes Nebraska’s granting of licenses in Whiteclay morally indefensible.
It is safe to say that Whiteclay is the poster child for opportunists in border towns. Every reservation has its Whiteclay, but what sets Nebraska apart is the fact that unlike others everywhere, we issue liquor licenses where there is no adequate law enforcement as called for in the Nebraska statutes. Indeed, by granting licenses where law enforcement does not exist Nebraska is knowingly violating our own policies.
To those who argue that South Dakota has border towns like Whiteclay I point out that South Dakota makes certain these licenses only go to communities who have the law enforcement needed to prevent the murder and mayhem. So, we must face the awful truth that while the problem of alcohol is everywhere in Indian Country, Whiteclay has long been known to be the worst in the nation.
To those who argue that removal of these licenses will merely cause the problem to move down the road, I ask: Would you accept this argument if you discovered a pornography ring or crack house in your neighborhood? Or would you expect law enforcement officers to shut down these menaces as soon as possible? I expect most would choose the latter option.
To the tribal leaders on the Pine Ridge alcohol is as destructive of life as pornography and crack cocaine. Whiteclay, an unincorporated village of 14, has four beer sellers who sell 4 million cans of beer to people who drink in the alleys and broken down houses. There is no law enforcement in Whiteclay. Scores have died violently over the years and countless others die slow deaths at the hand of those who prey on them in their weakened state.
So, to those who say the problem will merely move if the licenses at Whiteclay are revoked, I say fine. At worse the problem will move to a community with sufficient law enforcement to prevent the abuses that are so visible to anyone who has visited this God-forsaken place. At best we will save the lives of those who will not destroy themselves or their babies because Nebraska has finally just said no.
Bob Kerrey is a former U.S. Senator and a former Nebraksa Governor