Whiteclay, Nebraska was perhaps the only town in the entire country that had as its sole industry the sale of beer. The town, located just a few hundred yards from the South Dakota state line, sprang up in the 1880s in response to the banning of alcohol sales on the neighboring Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation. For more than 130 years, Whiteclay was the primary watering hole for thirsty Native who were prevented by reservation ordinances from acquiring their favored poison.

 

But that all came to an end in April of this year, when the Nebraska State Liquor Control Board unanimously voted not to renew the licenses of the four beer stores that provided the Pine Ridge Natives with their fix. The idea was that the move would make it more difficult for the Pine Ridge residents to get their hands on beer. This, the theory went, would lower overall consumption and improve public health of the Natives.

 

However, many critics have vocally opposed the measure, citing that this sort of heavy-handed government intervention is reminiscent of prohibition and rarely, if ever, works as intended. Already there is ample evidence of unintended consequences rippling throughout Sheridan County, where Whiteclay is located, as well as throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation itself.

 

Not everyone is displeased with the move, though. In Oerlichs, South Dakota, on the western border of the Pine Ridge Reservation, there are two liquor stores. One has reported double its normal sales since the May 1 closure of Whiteclay’s beer stores. The other, has reported a tripling of its normal volume. These reports are echoed across the state line, where in Rushville, Nebraska, that city’s numerous liquor stores have reported sales increased of 25 percent since the closures of the Whiteclay stores.

 

But this boost to local convenience stores’ businesses also has a public cost. In Rushville, the town council was forced to pass a string of ordinances against everything from public lewdness to vagrancy and public intoxication. These previously unneeded measures were passed due to an influx of social ills that had previously been contained to Whiteclay.

 

Categories: Native American, Native American Culture, Native American Issues, Nebraska Liquor Control Board, Whiteclay

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