Frank LaMere, an activist from the Winnebago Tribe, has been fighting to end the sale of liquor in Whiteclay, Nebraska, for decades. Photo by Indianz.Com / [More on Flickr]
Closing of liquor stores in Whiteclay just the beginning
Ballots to legalize alcohol sales lost or destroyed
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Today Editor
LINCOLN –– A man can be so happy that he cries. Frank LaMere, who crusaded against alcohol sales in Whiteclay, Nebraska, for more than two decades, broke down into tears when the decision to deny four liquor licenses was read. But he also had a smile on his face.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted last Wednesday, 3-0, not to renew the licenses of Arrowhead Inn, Jumping Eagle Inn, State Line Liquor and D&S Pioneer Service in Whiteclay.
“Today I am proud to be a Nebraskan,” LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska said. “I think today that the Oglala Lakota people won. I think Nebraskans won. We’ll be better for it in this state.”
LeMere then added this promising note, “But our work is just beginning.”
According to Hobart Rupe of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, the four liquor stores in Whiteclay sell 331,416 gallons of alcohol a year, the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer. This averages out to approximately 400 cases (24 - 12 oz. cans) of alcohol sold daily in a village with a population of just nine people.
However most of the alcohol sold in Whiteclay is not consumed by the few people from the reservation who chose hang out there but are the most visible and receive the most media attention. Several documentaries have been produced showcasing the devastating effects of alcohol consumption using this small population calling Whiteclay the “Skid Row of the Plains.”
However this population in Whiteclay is just the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the alcohol sold there is taken onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just two miles away, a reservation where consumption and the sale of alcohol is illegal.
Scott Weston, the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe called the decision “historic” and said it was “The first step in the direction of rebuilding” the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Weston said many crimes go unsolved or unreported in Whiteclay and that ending beer sales will help the tribe address its alcohol problems and make it harder for bootleggers to obtain their product.
In 1953 Congress ended the prohibition against selling alcohol and firearms to Indians. Individual tribes voted as to whether or not they would allow alcohol sales on their reservations. The Oglala Sioux Tribe was one of the tribes that voted against allowing alcohol sales.
Since that time the issue of whether or not to legalize the sale and consumption of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has been hotly debated. In 2013 voters of the tribe went to the polls and voted to legalize, with 1,843 voting for and 1,683 against.
However the OST council never officially ratified the results stating OST attorneys had determined that language in the resolution did not officially legalize alcohol and that the vote served mainly as a poll. That’s not what the people voting to legalize the sale of alcohol were told by the tribal government before and during the referendum election.
Officials from the tribe also confirmed that the ballots and documentation of that 2013 vote had been destroyed although they would not confirm how, why or by whom.
Bob Batt, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s chairman, referred to the situation in Whiteclay as “benign neglect” and said it was equivalent to “assisted suicide.”
“These are human beings,” Batt said. “They are really suffering.”
Batt said Wednesday’s vote to deny a renewal of the licenses came down to “woefully inadequate” law enforcement in Whiteclay which he said was a threat to public health and safety. The closest law enforcement is in Rushville more than 20 miles away, he said, and response times are slow.
Another factor leading to inadequate law enforcement is the fact that the Oglala Sioux Tribe does not have jurisdiction in Whiteclay because it is no longer part of a buffer zone established by the Department of Interior to prevent alcohol sales to Indians.
Batt called on the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Department of the Interior and President Donald Trump to step up to address the reservation’s longstanding problems of poverty, high unemployment and high rates of suicide and alcohol-related crime on the reservation
John Maisch, producer of the recently released film “Sober Indian/Dangerous Indian,” a former Oklahoma assistant attorney general whose job involved enforcing state liquor regulations, intervened in the Whiteclay issue by calling on the Nebraska Liquor Commission to look closely at laws governing the issuance of licenses.
“The law is on our side, even if most legislators aren't. We know that the NLCC issued those beer licenses in violation of the ten-factor test set forth in Nebraska Statute 53-132(3). Now, we're insisting that the NLCC use that same statutory authority to revoke those beer licenses,” Maisch wrote in a message to Nebraskans for Peace.
Adequate law enforcement is one of the prerequisites in issuing a liquor license as set forth in the ten-factor test of the Nebraska Statute.
Andy Snyder of Scottsbluff, attorney for the plaintiffs argued that this statute is to be used when first issuing a license and not for renewing one and that commission members had misinterpreted the law. Snyder said he was already working on a court appeal of Wednesday’s decision.
Attorneys have asked that the Whiteclay Liquor Stores be allowed to stay open pending the appeal. Their licenses are set to expire April 30.
In a separate case, the Nebraska attorney general’s office has filed 22 citations against the businesses for selling to bootleggers, failing to cooperate with investigators and other liquor-law violations. Those allegations are set for a separate hearing in May and were inadmissible as evidence in the license renewal case.
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Closing of liquor stores in Whiteclay just the beginning
(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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