John Maisch, a renowned filmmaker and ex-agent of the Oklahoma Liquor Control Board, has been an instrumental force in bringing about the final and permanent closure of the beer stores that made up the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska’s only business. Since the late 1800s, the town had served one sole purpose. Its only industry was the provision of alcohol to the Native Americans of the nearby Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux reservation, which had completely banned the use, sale and purchase of alcohol since it was established in the 1870s.
The loophole in the reservation’s internal ordinances regarding alcohol sale had caused a great deal of suffering over the decades. The Pine Ridge Indian reservation has among the highest rates of alcoholism anywhere in the country. It also has the single highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, a disease that may not only cause severe learning disabilities but that can also predispose its sufferers to, themselves, becoming alcoholics. This vicious cycle of parents passing alcoholism on to their offspring has contributed to the Pine Ridge reservation being one of the poorest places in the entire country for nearly a century.
But Maisch, who was responsible for producing a documentary that brought the issues of the Pine Ridge reservation to a broader audience, and a number of other activists finally prevailed in convincing the Nevada State Liquor Control Board to finally shutter the four stores that had provided over 3.5 million cans of liquor to the area’s Native Americans. Today, the closest place to buy beer to the reservation is over 23 miles away.