Last May, the beer stores in the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska were finally shuttered for good, after the Nebraska Liquor Control Board decided against renewing their licenses. This action came on the heels of more than 130 years of protests against the town and it’s sole industry. Groups ranging from Christian activists to members of the Indian Rights movement finally swayed the government of Nebraska to take action. However, the results, so far, are mixed.
A quick stroll through the town of Whiteclay itself reveals a very different scene than the one that prevailed there for so long. Normally, on any given afternoon, the town was populated with between 30 and 50 people, almost all Native Americans from the neighboring Pine Ridge Reservation, in varying stages of intoxication. Street brawls, people passed on on the sidewalks and in alleys and public drunkenness were mainstays of the town. Today, there is hardly anyone walking the streets in the middle of the day.
But some observers say that the problems that were so visible in the town of Whiteclay have simply moved elsewhere, where they’re now hidden away and out of sight. About 25 miles to the south of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where nearly all of the customers of Whiteclay’s beer stores came from, liquor stores have reported a 25 percent increase in sales. Elsewhere in Sheridan Country, where Whiteclay is located, small town liquor stores have seen increases in business by 200 to 300 percent. All of it is coming from people who have driven from the Pine Ridge Reservation to get their fix of alcohol.
This trend has caused great concern among critics of the move to shutter the stores in Whiteclay. Terry Robbins, the Sheridan County sheriff, has stated that the closures will cause an increase in the number of miles that are driven drunk within the county. He has little hope that the inability to buy beer in Whiteclay will actually discourage Natives from drinking.
Categories: Native American, Native American Culture, Native American Issues, The Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota, Whiteclay