The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation was established in the 1870s. At that time, the Oglala were a formidable people, ruling over the Northern Plains region in ways that modern Americans would find almost impossible to comprehend.
In stark contrast to the modern portrayal of Plains Indians as downtrodden victims of racism or other phantasmic social bogeymen, the Oglala Sioux of the Indian Wars era were a proud, self-sufficient and fierce people. The tribe included such historic names as Red Cloud, one of the only men in history to flat-out defeat an entire regiment of the United States army on strictly military terms. They also included Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, men of many accomplishments but perhaps best known for their defeat of the entire 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn.
It is in this context that the Lakota were finally forced onto the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1870s. They were formidable warriors who constituted one of the most serious military threats the United States has ever seen to its homeland. However, even in those days, it was recognized that these fiercely independent people had a particular weakness for alcohol. It was, therefore, decided that the Pine Ridge Reservation would be dry, with sales of alcohol strictly prohibited.
The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska quickly sprang up to fill the market void for alcohol. Located just a few hundred yards outside Pine Ridge but completely outside its jurisdiction, Whiteclay quickly made a mockery of the prohibition on alcohol sales. For 130 years, it sold the Pine Ridge Natives as much as they could drink.
But in April of this year, the Nebraska Liquor Control Board finally shut down the four beer stores of Whiteclay for good. Some, including what few Whiteclay residents there are, have applauded the move. But other, including officials from the neighboring town of Rushville, have said that they are now beginning to see Whiteclay’s social pathologies migrating to their own towns. They claim that the Whiteclay closures is just sweeping its problems under their rugs.
Categories: Native American, Native American History, Nebraska Liquor Control Board, The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Indian Reservation, Whiteclay