Whiteclay, Nebraska has long been famous for just one thing: selling booze to Indians. Located just a few feet over the state line, the town has specialized in selling alcohol to the dry Pine Ridge Reservation since the late 1800s.


There has long been a widespread perception that the provision of alcohol to the Native residents of the reservation is a social evil best barred by law. However, year after year, the town has persisted, with four liquor stores selling millions of cans of beer and malt liquor to the thirsty residents willing to take the 5 mile jaunt into Nebraska. But all this may soon come to an end.


The Nebraska Liquor Board is considering not renewing the liquor stores’ licenses this May. This would leave the stores with no way to legally sell alcohol and would remove the town’s sole industry. Many, including state representatives, activists and some Natives, applaud this possibility as a real solution to the Pine Ridge Reservation’s longstanding problems. However, some take a more skeptical view.


Terry Robbins is the sheriff of Sheridan County, which contains Whiteclay. He thinks that shuttering the liquor stores will create unintended but predictable consequences. The sheriff has a great deal of experience dealing with alcoholism and its products. He points out that, rather than abstaining, those seeking booze will just drive further up the road. Since the nearest liquor store after Whiteclay is many tens of miles, Robbins predicts that the number of miles driven drunk within Sheridan County will be poised to radically increase. Another problem is that outlawing liquor sales in Whiteclay will create a larger black market for bootleggers, who are often career criminals engaged in other, more dangerous pursuits, like methamphetamine production.

Sheriff Robbins believes that the lesser evil is to simply allow the status quo to persist. He says that the chances of significantly reducing the number of alcoholics by making alcohol harder to get is a method that has been tried and has failed in dry counties across the country. The only way, says the sheriff, to really address the immoderate drinking is to tackle the root social causes.



Categories: Native American Culture, Nebraska

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