Bruning, Nesbitt promise help for Whiteclay

Published June 8, 2003

WHITECLAY, Neb. (AP) – Enforcement of liquor laws would increase in this border community under an agreement being pursued by Nebraska’s attorney general and State Patrol superintendent.

Attorney General Jon Bruning and Col. Tom Nesbitt announced plans Saturday to pursue an agreement deputizing police from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation across the border in South Dakota.

“The state of Nebraska cares about what happens in Whiteclay and Pine Ridge,” Bruning said.

“We’ll have the Pine Ridge police able to come into Whiteclay and arrest violators of the law and cite liquor stores,” Burning said. He called sales of alcohol to intoxicated people the biggest problem.

The announcement came as Bruning and Nesbitt stood in the wind and rain with protesters on Whiteclay’s main street. The crowd was there to voice their disapproval of four stores that sell an estimated 11,000 cans of beer daily, primarily to reservation residents.

Alcohol sales are banned on the 5,000-square-mile reservation, which is home to 15,000 Oglala Sioux and has one of the nation’s highest alcoholism-related mortality rates.

The idea of cross-deputizing Pine Ridge Police will be presented to Gov. Johanns when he returns from Japan, Bruning said. He expects action by this summer.

Bruning said his office has just issued an opinion that cross-deputization of Pine Ridge police is legal to enforce Nebraska laws.

“We trust the Pine Ridge police. We know they are well trained,” Bruning said. “We want them to be here to help.”

Nesbitt said the plan makes sense.

“We will have law enforcement people in Whiteclay on a regular basis,” he said.

Nesbitt said the next step is to set up meetings with the Pine Ridge Tribal Council to secure its consent for the cross-deputization.

Local activist Tom Poor Bear said if that happens, the land Whiteclay is on should be given back to the Oglalas.

More than 50 people marched peacefully under a Nebraskans for Peace banner from the south into Whiteclay, and about 200 marched from Pine Ridge on the north, meeting on Whiteclay’s main street.

The marchers gathered at Camp Justice, a small encampment started at the site where the bodies of Ronald Hard Heart and Wilson Black Elk Jr. were found June 8, 1999. The homicides remain unsolved.

A panel discussion at Camp Justice on liquor sales at White Clay was followed by a community dinner cooked over open fires.

The march and announcement of increased law enforcement followed a letter from former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey to the state liquor commission saying he wants the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay to stop.

Frank LaMere, a member of the Democratic National Committee and an Indian activist, asked Kerrey to write the letter, according to Tim Rinne, president of Nebraskans for Peace.

On Saturday, LaMere called the march, “A show of unity that’s been long overdue.”

“Four years ago the state was here in opposition to change. Four years ago they arrested us. Today, they will be speaking with us about change,” LaMere said.

Despite the hopeful outlook, it was business as usual Saturday in Whiteclay, with people on the street drinking and asking for money.

At one point, three cars with South Dakota license plates pulled up to a beer store, then drove off in the direction of the reservation.

Lillian Tobacco, a clerk at V.J.’s Market, the lone grocery store that doesn’t sell alcohol, said deputizing reservation police was a good idea.

A resident of the reservation, Tobacco said the main issue there is that there are no jobs.

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