'Anybody can buy beer any time, regardless of age and regardless of your condition.'
Every year, White Clay merchants sell more than $4 million of beer, and most customers come from Pine Ridge, he said. The State of Nebraska provides "little or no" law enforcement in White Clay, which leads to assaults and other crimes being committed against Indian people, he alleged. Nebraska's unwillingness to provide police protection is "a direct violation of civil rights of Indian people who are faced with the sorrow and poverty which exist on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation," he concluded. Merchants are also culpable, making money at the expense of Indian people on the reservation, who suffer disproportionately from fatal car crashes, suicide, and health-related problems associated with long-term drinking, according to Ecoffey.
Vice Chair Butler remarked that several earlier panelists had suggested that if alcohol use could be curbed, a reduction in crime committed by and against Indian people would follow. Ecoffey contended that until economic conditions on the reservation improve, Native Americans will continue to turn to alcohol. He told the Committee:
Just simply, in this country a 75 to 95 percent unemployment rate in any area is totally unacceptable. And until we have opportunities for our Indian people to work in meaningful jobs so that they can adequately support their family, so they can buy simple things that are needed in life, then often we're going to have our Indian people turn in a sense of hopelessness and despair to alcohol and drugs. So the crux of the problem is helping create a better economy in Indian Country across the Nation.
There is no detoxification facility on the Pine Ridge Reservation; the reservation's new 46-bed hospital, to the amazement of many, was constructed without detoxification ability.
Camp Justice is home to about 20 Native Americans who have vowed to remain there until the murders are solved. In addition to bringing the killers to justice, camp organizers want the tiny, unincorporated Nebraska border town of White Clay shut down. They blame White Clay, with its four beer stores, for rampant alcoholism on the dry reservation and for violence against Indian people, including the recent murders, that alcohol use brings.
Legislator explains Whiteclay visit
Last week's news that South Dakota Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Olson of Rapid City had visited the notorious Nebraska border town of Whiteclay to buy beer struck some political observers as peculiar.
The seemingly out-of-the-blue trip was not that way at all, Olson said. It was part of a broader effort the party is making to organize on American Indianreservations. Addressing issues on the reservation means addressing the ongoingsituation of the border town with a population of fewer than 20 people selling about 4 million cans of beer to residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol sales are banned. Protesters marched throughout the summer of 1999.
"It was simply a part of the larger conversation about connecting in a meaningful way with the Native American community," Olson said. "The Whiteclay trip for me personally was a necessity. I've been to Pine Ridge many times, to powwows. I've never been to Whiteclay. I had to see what they were talking about."
Following is a question-and-answer session with Olson about her visit, which she made with a handful of Democratic officials and some Pine Ridge residents.
Ross: What did you see?
Olson: I saw a picture of tragic life. It was worse than any picture I had inmy mind before going. The real thing was much worse than any preconceived thought I had. I saw alcohol abuse in every kind of way. I saw people who clearly were in some stage of inebriation. I saw people who appeared to be very unhealthy sitting on the ground. I saw people purchase liquor, get in their car and drive across the border, no problem. I saw drinking on premises. There were no inside-restroom facilities. There was a stench in certain areas. I saw helplessness and hopelessness. As I talked to these people, it was kind of like, 'We're down, where do we have to go? We might as well do this.'
Ross: How many people were there on the street?
Olson: There were different groups of people. When we started our tour, we talked to a couple of people hanging out by a building. Then, a couple more people would come over, questioning our presence. 'What are you doing here?'
Ross: In a hostile way?
Olson: Maybe a suspicious way. We were clearly the foreigners. The last thing I wanted was to give the impression that I was there to gawk, to criticize or to demean. When they appeared a little defensive and suspicious, I don't blame them one bit. I wanted to allay their fears and tell them we want to understand what's going on. I didn't want them to feel that I was there to participate in a spectator sport. I shook hands, I touched them. I wanted them to feel that my heart was warm and my mission was sincere. There were even some hugs. Then we saw four people kind of slumped against a building, just tragic-looking people. There wasn't anything else to do or anywhere else to be. One told us a story about his years as a veteran. Our hearts were touched by the people there. When we asked the questions, 'How easy is it to buy beer and can these people afford it?' we were told answers that, to me, are really despicable. They buy beer on credit.
Ross: Isn't that illegal?
Olson: I don't know. I do think it's illegal to sell beer to someone who's obviously inebriated. We asked about age. The consistent replies to any of our questions were, 'Anybody can buy beer any time, regardless of age and regardless of your condition.'
Ross: And this was from the people who were on the street, not the owners of the businesses?
Olson: Right. Clearly, there're violations of panhandling, of crossing the border, violations of drinking on premises. Clearly, Nebraska law is violated. That was verified by everyone on the street and the people from Pine Ridge who came with us, the people who know what goes on there every day.
It is simply inexcusable and absolutely disgraceful that, in this country, we allow anything like that to happen. You have to feel some anger and even some fear when you're there. You have to wonder about the exploitation of the helpless. You have to feel why, how can alcohol be sold under these conditions, breaking the law and it's sort of like feeding a cancer. It was a heartbreaking experience ... ...
Nebraska/Three Men Drink in Protest at Capitol
... ... happening in Whiteclay, where about 11,000 cans a day of beer are sold, primarily to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe who live on the nearby dry reservation, said Todd Paddock, a sociology professor at Wesleyan University.
Since the June 1999 murders of two Pine Ridge men just inside the reservation boundary from Whiteclay, Neb., groups have pressured the state of Nebraska to close the four off-sale liquor stores in that town. The stores sell about 1.4 million cans of beer a year to American Indians who travel the few hundred feet from the border to the tiny town of 14 people.
Thu Mar 28, 2002
Nebraskans for Peace is threatening to sue the state liquor commission for not cracking down on the Whiteclay liquor stores that sell beer to Natives from the nearby Pine Ridge reservation.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission gives preferential treatment to the Whiteclay stores, according to Ken Winston, an attorney for Nebraskans for Peace. Winston drew a parallel between the commission's actions in revoking the license of Studio 14, a Lincoln nightclub, after several liquor law violations and its decision to fine a Whiteclay business after multiple violations.
The commission's actions show a "different, higher standard for retailers in Lincoln than the standard for retailers in Whiteclay," Winston told the commission Wednesday."
An obvious double standard is at work here. Downtown college nightclubs are subject to one set of rules, and businesses in Whiteclay to another," he said ... ...
The commission makes decisions on case reports from local and state lawenforcement officers, filtered through the Attorney General's Office.Winstondid not give any timetable for filing a lawsuit. But Nebraskans for Peace,which has been monitoring the Whiteclay situation for several years, will continue watching commission actions, he said.
"If over time nothing happens, then a lawsuit is the only recourse," he said.Winston also questioned the commission decision finding the Arrowhead Inn not guilty of two charges of selling to intoxicated people even though the individuals tested at double the legal alcohol limit, and the commission decision to continue the licenses of the four Whiteclay outlets when the owners continue to fail to meet liquor regulation standards.
But he focused on what he saw as the disparate treatment between Studio 14 in Lincoln and Whiteclay."Now I suppose we could chalk this contrast in treatment simply to physical proximity: Whiteclay is small and remote and hardly any Nebraskans ever go there, and Studio 14 was just two blocks north on O Street in our state capital."However, there is a more disturbing aspect of this double standard.
The patrons of the college bar scene in downtown Lincoln are overwhelmingly white. The patrons for the $3.5 million annual alcohol trade in Whiteclay are Native Americans from the dry Pine Ridge reservation. This creates a prima facie case that licensees are being treated differently because of the skin color of their clientele," he said.
Buffer zone sought at reservation
... ... Alcohol cannot be sold on the reservation, home to between 15,000 and 38,000 Oglala Lakota. Yet just 200 feet away, tribal members can buy it. The U.S. government tries to go to the source of its drug problem: where it is grown in South America, Steele said. "The source of a very great problem on the Pine Ridge Reservation is Whiteclay," he told the committee. "Your jurisdiction is causing it." If Nebraska doesn't help, the tribe may be forced to sue the state in federal court, raising the issue of the 1882 buffer zone, Steele said.
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