College will show film on Whiteclay after all

Published Wednesday April 8, 2009

LINCOLN — Western Nebraska Community College officials have reversed a decision to cancel the screening of a documentary film about Whiteclay, the Nebraska border town that supplies beer to residents of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Mark Vasina of Lincoln, director and producer of “The Battle for Whiteclay,” said a college official had told him Monday that the film was too political to be shown at public expense at a college campus.

College President Eileen Ely of Scottsbluff said Tuesday, however, that she and other officials wanted to review the film before it was shown on college campuses.

“Being Native American myself, I want to make sure the film is not offensive to any race, particularly the Native American race,” she said.

Ely and other officials watched the movie later Tuesday and concluded that “it’s an educational film, we support it and plan on airing it,” said David Groshans, vice president of human resources.

Vasina said he and Frank LaMere, a Winnebago activist featured in the film, were invited about a month ago to attend screenings at the college’s campuses in Sidney, Scottsbluff and Alliance, Neb.

The movie already has been screened at several colleges, including Creighton University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of North Dakota’s Indian Studies film festival.

Whiteclay, population 14, has four liquor stores that sell 3.2 million cans of beer a year, almost all to residents of Pine Ridge, directly across the border in South Dakota. Alcohol is banned on the reservation.

The movie depicts struggles by American Indian leaders and others to close down the beer stores. It includes some unflinchingly honest scenes of drunken people on Whiteclay’s streets.

Sidney Police Officer John Vera, who attended the community college, said he asked college officials to set up a screening after he saw the film.

“It’s interesting and it’s disturbing at the same time,” he said.

LaMere said he was taken aback by the temporary cancellation.

“Every Nebraskan should see this documentary and decide for themselves what it means,” LaMere said.

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