The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has long been one of the poorest places in the United States. Wracked by 80 percent unemployment and rampant drug and alcohol use, the reservation has long been a focal point for activists of all stripes seeking to create a better society for all.
For nearly the entirety of the existence of the reservation, which was established around 1870, a neighboring town, Whiteclay, Nebraska, has existed for the sole purpose of providing alcoholic drinks to the Native American population of Pine Ridge. This arrangement has long been viewed with extreme skepticism by a laundry list of social activists, politicians and even national news outlets. Recently, the town of White Clay has once again come back under scrutiny.
This time, though, things may be different. The four liquor stores that make up the town of Whiteclay, a town with a population of 14, have been put on notice. They all are due for a renewal of their licenses in May. However, some state lawmakers have voiced their intention to deny the renewal. One such lawmaker is Patty Pansing Brooks. She says that, although she has been rebuffed many times in the past in her efforts to permanently shutter the town, Whiteclay is an ongoing public nuisance and a blight on the state of Nebraska. She says that she has formed a coalition of like-minded state politicians who all see fit to send the liquor vendors packing.
But others see it differently, including many Native Americans. Vance Blacksmith is a 47 year old Sioux who thinks that shutting down the liquor sales of Whiteclay is a fool’s errand. He says that people will just turn to bootleggers, who are more than happy to drive the extra miles in order to charge two and three times markups on beer and booze. Mr. Blacksmith thinks that the concept of Native predisposition to alcoholism is overblown and that it’s the conditions of the Pine Ridge Reservation as a whole that lead to the problem drinking. He says that, until the underlying problems which lead to widespread despair are addressed, Pine Ridge residents will continue drinking.