About Whiteclay, Nebraska

Whiteclay is an unincorporated village of 14 people in northwest Nebraska bordering the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota (also known as the Oglala Sioux Tribe). The Pine Ridge lies almost entirely in South Dakota.

Whiteclay lies on disputed land, merely 200 feet from the official reservation border, and less than 2 miles from the center of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the largest town on the reservation.

The number of people living on the Pine Ridge has long been controversial. The 2000 census reports 15,521 residents, but in 2005 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revised the figure to 28,000. The Oglala Sioux tribal government maintains that the true population of the Pine Ridge is around 40,000.

Sale and possession of alcoholic beverages on the Pine Ridge is prohibited under tribal law. Except for a brief experiment with on-reservation liquor sales in the early 1970s, this prohibition has been in effect since the reservation lands were created.

Whiteclay has four off-sale beer stores licensed by the State of Nebraska which sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on the Pine Ridge.

A Brief History of Whiteclay

In 1882 U.S. President Chester A. Arthur decreed a fifty-square-mile buffer zone in Nebraska south of the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota at the urging of the U.S. Indian Agent and Oglala Lakota elders, for the protection of reservation residents from illegal whiskey peddlers operating in this area.

In 1889, and again in 1890, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation incorporating this buffer zone, known as the White Clay Extension, into the boundaries of the reservation. This land was designated by Congress to remain a part of the reservation until such time as its protective function is no longer needed.

In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt by executive order placed 49 of the 50 square miles of the White Clay Extension into the public domain, precipitating a land grab by white settlers, without representing that the original need for the buffer zone had ceased to exist. These acts were carried out over protests by Oglala Lakota elders, the Indian Agent and other concerned white residents of the area that the need indeed remained.

Illegal sales of alcohol to Pine Ridge residents continued until the mid-1950s through unlicensed commercial establishments (bootleggers) operating in the unincorporated village of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which lies on the White Clay Extension at the border of the reservation and within easy walking distance of the reservation’s largest town.

In the mid-1950s the State of Nebraska licensed two bars in Whiteclay to permit on-sale consumption of alcohol. The bars became notorious for the violence which occurred on their premises. In the early 1970s the owners converted their licenses to off-sale beer only. Officials quickly added two additional off-sale beer licenses in Whiteclay.

Since the early 1970s the State of Nebraska has licensed four off-sale beer retailers in Whiteclay. These retailers routinely violate Nebraska liquor law by selling beer to minors and intoxicated persons, knowingly selling to bootleggers who resell the beer on the reservation, permitting on-premise consumption of beer in violation of restrictions placed on off-sale-only licenses, and exchanging beer for sexual favors.

The vast majority of those who purchase beer in Whiteclay have in fact no legal place to consume it, since possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the Pine Ridge Reservation remain illegal under tribal law.