Native Sun News: Camp Zero Tolerance sets up by Whiteclay

The following story was written and reported by David Michaud, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Camp Zero Tolerance located on the reservation border just outside of Whiteclay, NE. Courtesy/James Michael Raphael

Camp Zero Tolerance
By David Michaud
Native Sun News Correspondent

WHITECLAY, NE — “A better life for all the youth on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, nothing more, nothing less;” that is what Olowan Martinez and the rest of the members of “Camp Zero-Tolerance” are striving for.

Members of the camp, which has had a presence on the South Dakota/Pine Ridge Reservation side of the border into White Clay, NE, have been at the camp for more than a month. Much longer than was originally planned. The town and its multiple bars have been at the center of controversy for years.

“It started as a four day camp for the first of the month to help stop alcohol when it flows the most,” said Martinez. “Now we plan on being here until our points-of-entry are up or alcohol sales end in White Clay.”

Not all members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe agree with the actions they are taking in attempting to shut down White Clay though, or how they present their camp.

“I do not like them flying the flag upside down, we are not in distress and a lot of veterans died defending that flag,” said Oglala Council Member and former Navy Sailor Larry Eagle Bull.

Eagle Bull, along with others on the Reservation, worry about how people from other areas may view the Oglala after seeing the members of the camp.

“I feel like this is not good for our Reservation because we already have a bad reputation. Non-residents will be afraid because of their military dress and bandanas over their faces,” said Eagle Bull.

This fear may also come from recent incidents where beer trucks were attacked while delivering to the bars.

“It is for a good cause,” said Isaac Weston of the camp having a presence outside of White Clay, “but by acting in violence how will we fight the bigger battle, when instead we should be using our minds to fight. We are already viewed negatively off the Rez and violence will make it worse.”

Councilman Eagle Bull agrees, “There are other ways to protest. The media, newspapers, marches and going to the State of Nebraska to stop beer sales to our Reservation (which the tribe attempted through Anheuser-Busch). I am sure they can come up with more ways than what they are doing.”

But for Martinez, the reason that they are there is not to cause violence, but to foster a new mentality for the Reservation. A mentality in which children are safer and alcohol is not accepted.

“We are trying to get rid of the ‘hush’ way of life, where anytime something bad happens from a drunk you don’t talk about it and just accept it,” said Martinez. “That is not a normal way of life, just accepting drunk violence is not how our people should live.”

“Our goal is, for us as a nation, to take a look at ourselves and change ourselves for the better.”

That starts every time someone drives by the camp, within sight of all the bars in White Clay, and see those standing there protesting the bringing of alcohol into Pine Ridge, according to members of the camp.

“Our drunk relatives are angry with us. We are forcing them to look at themselves and their drinking. We ask them how it effects the children when they come home drunk, when they are drinking in the house or when they choose alcohol over a good meal for their child,” said Martinez.

But stopping alcohol coming in is proving difficult, as even the police have not been able to accomplish it for years. Some tribal members feel like they are not even actually helpings.

“They aren’t preventing anything,” said Santana Bear Eagle, a resident of the small district community Manderson, “either way the alcohol will come through to the Rez.” Martinez recognizes that alcohol is still coming into the Reservation though. She knows that the police cannot stop every single drop of alcohol from entering.

“The cops don’t enforce zero-tolerance for alcohol,” said Martinez. “They do checks once in awhile, but they can’t stop all the people with beer coming in. It would take 20 cops in each community to do that and that will never happen.”

While they have more than a dozen people in camp at all times, according to Martinez, they cannot force people to not drink. Whether they are in White Clay or coming back into Pine Ridge, they only ask that they look at themselves.

“There was rumors that we were going into White Clay and attacking our own people,” said Martinez. “We are never, ever, going to go into White Clay to attack our own people. We feel for our relatives who are being poisoned by the bar owners. We want to help them, not hurt them.”

Martinez is thankful for the current Oglala President Bryan Brewer, one of the biggest supporters of stopping alcohol on the Reservation in her eyes.

“Bryan is up here every chance he gets. The Oglala are lucky to have a leader like him. He came from an educational background and he saw for himself what alcohol does to our children,” said Martinez.

Although the Reservation will not be truly “dry” in the short term, Martinez and those at “Camp Zero-Tolerance” are eyeing a future for the children which does not include the problems her generation faces.

“We have children in camp every day. My girls are here, they want to see alcohol gone from their home,” said Martinez. “We must show people that there is no government program that is going to come save them. Social Services won’t save the Oglala; the Oglala will be the ones to save themselves. That is why we are here, to make people save themselves.”

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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