Blockade near Whiteclay takes aim at alcohol

Published Saturday Jun 28, 2008
BY LISA MUNGER
LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

Three men wearing yellow safety vests and holding red flags stopped vehicles as they traveled north from Whiteclay on Saturday afternoon.

They were part of a blockade set up to stop alcohol from getting into the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The men, members of the Strong Heart Civil Rights movement based in Pine Ridge and of Nebraskans for Peace, asked motorists in the cars they stopped if they had alcohol. Pine Ridge Tribal police stationed down the road confiscated alcohol taken onto the reservation and issued citations to violators.

Alcohol is prohibited by tribal law on the reservation, said Duane Martin Sr., a leader in Strong Heart, a traditional Oglala Lakota warrior society.

Tribal police worked with Strong Heart on Saturday, Martin said in a telephone interview during the blockade, but he said he’d like to see more help from Nebraska law enforcement.

“This is the first day we’ve gotten cooperation from tribal police,” he said. “I have no support from the state of Nebraska.”

According to Nebraskans for Peace, four off-sale liquor stores in Whiteclay, pop. 14, sell more than 11,000 cans of beer a day, nearly all of it to Natives. Whiteclay is a couple of miles south of the Nebraska-South Dakota border.

“We make sure alcohol establishments follow the rules,” said Col. Bryan Tuma, superintendent for the Nebraska State Patrol. “This includes attempting to address improper sale, underage drinking, sales to intoxicated individuals and premise inspections.

“We cannot randomly stop vehicles. If there are no problems with point of sale in Nebraska, there is very little we can do.”

Tuma said after a legal sale of alcohol is made, the patrol doesn’t have jurisdiction to intervene if people carry it across the state line into the reservation.

“We do have a presence in Whiteclay; Whiteclay gets more of our attention than other areas,” he said. “Many of the issues facing Whiteclay go beyond law enforcement.”

Mark Vasina, spokesman for Nebraskans for Peace, said his group has been involved in Whiteclay alcohol sales since 1999.

“We work with the tribe and other individuals in Pine Ridge to get Nebraska to provide proper control over liquor sales,” Vasina said.

Martin said alcohol abuse is pervasive on the reservation.

“Our main objective is to keep alcohol and drugs off the reservation. It’s epidemic; it’s killing our people at an alarming rate.”

He said motorists’ reactions to being stopped at the blockade were mixed.

“Some are cooperating, some are not. A lot of them support what we’ve been doing,” he said.

“We would like to see more blockades. By implementing this, it gives everyone the ability to take action. Today is a great victory.”

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