What is Whiteclay?
Whiteclay, NE is an unincorporated village located in Sheridan county, about 400 miles from Omaha. Whiteclay lies on Nebraska Highway 87 at the South Dakota border. If you leave Whiteclay going north, you are on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota.
What makes Whiteclay important?
First these facts:
- Whiteclay has a population of about 14 people.
- Pine Ridge is a dry reservation with a population that varies in estimates from 17,000 to 40,000 residents. Pine Ridge reservation is just across the state line. Pine Ridge Village, the largest town, on the reservation is located a mere two miles from Whiteclay, NE.
- There are four off sale liquor stores in Whiteclay. (Off sale liquor is sold for consumption away from where it was bought.)
- These stores sell about 11,000 cans of beer a day.
- There is nowhere in Whiteclay to legally consume these purchases.
What does that tell us?
It means that Native Americans are leaving the reservation to purchase alcohol. They are drinking on the streets of Whiteclay, on the property of the stores and are transporting alcohol across the border onto the dry reservation. All of which are illegal.
Since there’s no way the 14 people in Whiteclay are consuming 11,000 cans a day, we can safely assume plenty of “bootlegging” occurs. That is, the beer is purchased to be resold on Pine Ridge. This is an illegal activity on the part of the stores and the bootleggers.
It has also been credibly alleged that the stores in Whiteclay are selling to minors, trading sex for beer and committing food stamp fraud by accepting food stamps for beer. All of these are against the law.
Why hasn’t law enforcement stopped the alleged illegalities?
There is no local law enforcement in Whiteclay. The Nebraska State patrol and the Sheridan county sheriff’s office have the responsibility for law enforcement. Sheridan County is a large, sparsely populated area. It is tough to enforce all laws because there are very few law enforcement officers in the area. The state of Nebraska also receives around $300,000 in taxes from the sale of liquor in Whiteclay per year.
What are the problems resulting from Whiteclay?
According to the Indian Health Services statistics:
- The Age-Adjusted Alcoholism Death Rates in the reservation area are 1,622% higher than the national population mean.
- The Age-Adjusted Tuberculosis Death Rates in the reservation area are 1,233% higher than the national population.
- The Age-Adjusted Diabetes Mellitus Death Rates in the reservation area are 517% higher than the national population mean (13.3 per 100,000 versus 68.7).
- The Age-Adjusted Suicide Rates in the reservation area are 265% higher than the national population mean (11.2 per 100,000 versus 29.7).
According to the US Census Bureau:
- The percentage of households living at or below poverty rates on the Pine Ridge Reservation are 365% higher than in the national population mean (13.0% versus 47.4%).
- The college diploma rates are 82% lower on the Pine Ridge reservation than the mean of the national population (24.4% versus 4.3%).
- 80% of Pine Ridge Reservation residents are unemployed.
- Infant mortality rates are five times higher than in the national population.
Other than Haiti, life expectancy on the Pine Ridge is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.
Isn’t it a matter of personal choice?
Some have said that it’s simply a matter of the Native Americans on the reservation stopping the drinking. After all, there is something to be said for personal responsibility. But, as with many addictions including gambling, cigarettes and drugs, it is not an easy thing to overcome. And having several liquor stores a short drive away does not encourage sobriety.
Even if drinking is a choice for an adult, what choice do the young children of Pine Ridge have? They haven’t chosen to drink. They suffer from the effects of alcohol daily: fetal alcohol syndrome, teen suicide, child abuse and child neglect. These children have no say about the culture of drinking and despair that’s been created.
What can be done about Whiteclay?
Whiteclay exists as a Nebraska entity, and is therefore subject to Nebraska law. We can demand that the laws of the land be upheld.
We can change existing liquor laws to give more control to the state over the liquor stores.
We can demand our Governor, Attorney General and legislators stop kicking the issue of Whiteclay down the road. They too often dodge questions by saying that the tribal leaders and South Dakota need to come to the table. This simply is not true. Whiteclay and the four liquor stores exist in the state of Nebraska, under Nebraska law. They are a Nebraska problem. Nebraska citizens and our elected officials bear some responsibility.
It is time we demand that our elected officials take more action. You can write Governor Heineman and ask him to show some leadership on the issue. Or write Attorney General Jon Bruning, the top law enforcement official in the state, and ask him to make sure the laws are being enforced. Contact your state legislator and tell him/her you are embarrassed that Nebraska allows such exploitation of human beings, especially children, and ask him/her to revise statutes to make it easier to shut down these liquor stores.
Above all speak-up. Educate your families and friends on the issue (show them this blog post). Urge them to take action. Stand up and be counted.
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