Nebraska beer stores near reservation lose liquor licenses

By Grant Schulte

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LINCOLN, Neb. _ Four Nebraska stores that sell millions of cans of beer each year near a South Dakota Indian reservation lost their liquor licenses Wednesday amid complaints that they fuel alcohol-related problems among members of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

The state ruling marks a monumental shift for Whiteclay, an unincorporated town with nine residents on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The stores have operated in town for decades despite criticism that the area lacks adequate law enforcement. The stores are expected to appeal the ruling.

Here are some key things to know about Whiteclay:

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WHY ARE THE STORES SIGNFICANT?

The stores sell cheap beer and malt liquor just 200 yards south of the reservation, which prohibits alcohol but continues to struggle with high rates of fetal alcoholism and one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the Western Hemisphere.

Whiteclay draws mostly Native Americans who loiter around abandoned buildings, beg for change and pass out on sidewalks lined with dirty clothes and empty beer cans.

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WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

The stores are likely to appeal the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s ruling to a district court. An attorney for the owners of the beer stores has said the commission should have renewed the liquor licenses automatically, as it has in the past.

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HOW IS LIFE IN WHITECLAY?

Advocates urged the commission not to renew the licenses during a hearing earlier this month. The tribe’s attorney general testified that Nebraska law enforcement officers seldom work with the tribe’s police force, which has 25 officers to patrol a reservation that’s geographically larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Religious leaders who live in Whiteclay said they frequently see public drunkenness, human waste and Native Americans suffering from injuries. Occasionally, they said women will come to them claiming they were raped.

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WHAT DOES LAW ENFORCEMENT SAY?

Longtime Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins disputed allegations that deputies ignore the problems but acknowledged that he no longer writes citations for open container violations. He said his deputies don’t visit Whiteclay every day but spend more time in the village during the 1st and 15th of each month, when tribe members receive government benefit checks.

A Nebraska State Patrol investigator told commissioners the patrol has received four formal complaints against the stores in the last two years but wasn’t able to substantiate any of them.

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WHAT ELSE ARE STATE OFFICIALS DOING?

In a separate case, the Nebraska attorney general’s office has filed 22 citations against the businesses for selling to bootleggers, failing to co-operate with investigators and other liquor-law violations. Those allegations are set for a separate hearing in May and were inadmissible as evidence in the license renewal case.

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