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Battle over alcohol sales brews on border
Rebecca Mcmickell
Antelope Staff

Whiteclay has four licensed alcohol stores. The population is 14.

This Nebraska town lies just 200 feet from The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where alcohol has been prohibited by tribal law since the reservation was formed. The continuing controversy surrounding the stream of liquor that pours across the border is the subject of Frank LaMere’s and Mark Vasina’s documentary film “The Battle for Whiteclay.”

To commemorate the start of Native American Heritage Month, LaMere and Vasina, the film’s producer, came to campus on Nov. 1 to show their powerful documentary. “The Battle for Whiteclay” was awarded Best Political Documentary at the 2009 New York International Independent Film Festival

“This is a Nebraska issue, we own this,” LaMere said about the film’s intent to shed light on the illegal transportation of alcohol from Whiteclay to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  

The documentary illustrates the tremendously negative effects of the 11,000 cans of beer sold daily to Oglala Sioux tribe members who live in Pine Ridge. The film follows LaMere and fellow political and social activists Duane Martin Sr. and Russell Means as they rally to shut down the four alcohol vendors in Whiteclay licensed by the state of Nebraska.

The continuing battle for the protection of reservation residents from whiskey peddlers operating in this area goes back to 1882 when U.S. President Chester A. Arthur decreed a 50-square-mile buffer zone in Nebraska south of the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota at the urging of the U.S. Indian Agent and Oglala Lakota elders.

The film includes footage of everything from peaceful protest marches to political trials involving the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission and the state senate.  

Ivy Garrets, a senior social work major from Overton said the film opened her eyes. “I think everyone in Nebraska should see this movie. I had no idea of what’s going on there, and it’s right in our state,” she said. “I was the most shocked about how poor that area is and how helpless those people seemed.”  

The area in and around Whiteclay and Pine Ridge is the second poorest in the nation and alcohol abuse affects four out of five families in Pine Ridge. While the establishments that sell alcohol in Whiteclay are technically legal, the film examines some of the many illegal activities that take place, such as drinking on the premises of the stores, selling to minors, selling to intoxicated individuals and trading sex for beer.

In addition, virtually all of the alcohol sold in Whiteclay is sold to the people of Pine Ridge who have no legal place to drink it. As a result, the highway from Whiteclay to Pine Ridge is known as one of the deadliest in the world.  

“Literally thousands, probably tens of thousands, of Oglalas have died tragic deaths because of alcohol abuse and things that could have been prevented,” LaMere said. “The bottom line is that somebody has to do something.”

Native American Heritage Month

Nov. 10, 8-10 p.m. SKINS (Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations) host Game Night in the student union.

Nov. 29, 6:30 p.m. Closing event: Music and dance performance in the student union.


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