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Liquor commission votes to close Whiteclay beer storesTell North Platte what you think
Photo by Calla Kessler
Nebraska Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and Tom Brewer of Gordon embrace after hearing of the state Liquor Control Board's decision.

On May 1, the four beer stores in the ramshackle village of seven people in Whiteclay will close after 113 years in business.

That is the upshot of the decree of a unanimous vote of the Nebraska State Liquor Control Commission at 11:14 a.m. Wednesday -- a decision that triggered cheers and tears in a standing-room-only hearing room on the fifth floor of the Nebraska State Office Building.

Citing lackluster law enforcement, deplorable attention to public health and sexual abuse of young girls, the three commissioners voted not to renew the beer store licenses when they expire on April 30.

When the decision was announced, Frank LaMere, a Winnebago activist who has fought for 22 years to shut down the four beer stores, began to weep.

"We acted on behalf of those who have no voice," he said. "And for one day in the history of Nebraska, we gave voice for those who have none."

The decision is a dream come true for Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, the first Native state senator in Nebraska history whose district encompasses Whiteclay. After the vote, the Oglala Lakota U.S. Army war veteran-turned-politician gave a jubilant fist pump and broke into a wide smile.

"To hear those words come out of their mouth, you just felt this relief," he said. "It's almost like you've been sick for a long time and now the fever's broken and you can see some hope for the future."

For Judi gaiashkibos, the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, the decision will have a ripple effect. And, she said, it won't be contained to Native people or Nebraska or the United States. It's international in scope.

"It means that my life matters," said gaiashkibos, a member of the Ponca tribe. "It means that we don't have to be invisible. It means that we are being afforded due process. It means that our voice is heard."

Bryan Brewer, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, thought it would never happen. Before he left Pine Ridge on Monday for the hearing, he heard rumors that the beer stores had already won.

It's a happy day, he said. But it's also not the end.

"We have to start the healing process," Brewer said. "We don't have the resources to help our people. Our children go to school every day. Many of them are abused mentally, physically, sexually abused. And they get to school and we have no resources to really help them."

Omaha attorney Dave Domina, who brought the case against the beer store owners, was emotional after the vote.

"I don't think you can be a human being and not be moved by it," he said breaking into tears.

Meanwhile, Scottsbluff attorney Andrew Snyder, who represented the beer store owners, said he and his clients will appeal the case as soon as they receive a written decision from the liquor commission.

"We believe the decision is wrong and contrary to law," he said.

Snyder said it's clear there were forces in play beyond the commission that were aligned against them. His clients, he said, felt railroaded.

"It's pretty clear it's not a random occurrence," Snyder said. "This was coordinated above their heads on a political level. By political, I mean the governor's office."

The store owners will have 30 days to appeal to the Lancaster District Court. After hearing the case, the court could reverse, modify, overrule or sustain the liquor commission's decision. The court could also send the case back to the commission for further hearings.

The district court could also hold the decision and restore the beer stores' licenses throughout the appeals process, which Snyder said they will request. The appellate process could take weeks, months or even years depending on how far the case is appealed.

But as of Wednesday morning, the four beer stores -- which sold 3.6 million cans of beer last year largely to the residents of the Oglala Lakota's nearby dry reservation -- will be out of business in 11 days.

The hearing on whether to renew the four beer stores' licenses – at theArrowhead Inn, Jumping Eagle Inn, Stateline Liquor and D & S Pioneer Service -- was the result of an Oct. 11 hearing when a county commissioner who oversees Whiteclay said there is not enough law enforcement to address the crime-ridden unincorporated village.

On April 6, the liquor commission heard from complainants and beer store owners in a hearing room inside the Capitol to decide whether Whiteclay had enough law enforcement presence.

During the 12-hour hearing, testimony from Whiteclay residents and Pine Ridge officials affirmed the problem. It spilled over into issues like bootlegging, human trafficking and public health hazards.

Although the beer stores and their attorney argued that the commission had no legal right to question the license renewals, the commissioners indicated they felt it was not only a right, but a duty.

"I believe these activities of Whiteclay have gone on way too long and my vote is to not renew the licenses," Commissioner Bruce Bailey said.

He cited the Nebraska Liquor Control Act at length, pointing to seven specific provisions of the statute as reasons for making the decision.

He also noted that several witnesses had provided critical testimonies -- witnesses who work for the Christian-based Lakota Hope Ministry in Whiteclay.

"I'll be out of a job, which is gonna be good," said Abram Neumann, a 22-year-old missionary who's tended to Whiteclay's street people for the last two years.

Bruce BonFleur, who founded the ministry 13 years ago, said this could be a transformative decision for Whiteclay.

"We look at this decision as an initial and vital early step in what will be a transformed Whiteclay, one that promotes life, healing and hope," he said.

Commission Chairman Robert Batt said he hopes not renewing the licenses can be the first step in addressing change in Whiteclay. However, he said this isn't the end of addressing the problems that bring the Oglala Lakota there. To fix that, he said, will require federal institutions to own up to mismanagement.

"I call for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior and eventually the president of the United States to take action," Batt said. "If we can fix countries all over the world, we need to fix the poorest county in North America."

Many others echoed similar sentiments -- that although Wednesday's decision was good news, it was only the first step in a longer journey.

Nora Boesem, a former nurse from Newell, S.D., has taken on Whiteclay-related issues by adopting several Pine Ridge children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Upon hearing the news, she laughed and cried, but above all she felt called to further duties.

"Now we need to really hit the ground running," Boesem said. "Today is an emotional day, and I'm gonna let it be an emotional day, but tomorrow is 'Where do we go from here?'"

John Maisch, an attorney from Oklahoma who directed a Whiteclay documentary, said the sun is finally shining through a long history of overcast, but it can't end here.

"It's a time for rebuilding to begin," Maisch said. "A dark cloud has been lifted over the state of Nebraska."

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, whom many credited with jump-starting political will around Whiteclay, said Wednesday's decision is a continuation in an ongoing spiritual journey.

Pansing Brooks said she felt it when LaMere first spoke to her. She felt it the first time she spoke to human trafficking victims. She hopes this -- as well as her bill to promote detox, job creation and economic development in the town -- will change the parasitic relationship of liquor stores and the reservation to something much different.

"I envision it as a tourist destination, I really do," she said. "To help make money for the Native people, to promote their culture and to be able to help bolster and let that community thrive."

A year ago, Olowan Martinez, a Pine Ridge resident and Whiteclay activist, might have scoffed at that. She had a grandpa who died in Whiteclay, a mother who died of cirrhosis, cousins who died in drunk driving accidents. She knows many others with similar stories. All the while, she said, Nebraska did nothing.

But the narrative seems to be changing.

On Wednesday morning, she and several others gathered on the South Dakota-Nebraska state line on the edge of Whiteclay to await the decision. When it was announced, the group celebrated and smiled at each other because for some it was the first sign that Nebraska cares about the Oglala Lakota.

"Just that alone is mending relationships that have been twisted and poisoned by alcohol for generations," Martinez said. "Over 100 years, Whiteclay has destroyed our people, and now their time is up."

(Chris Bowling is a member of a College of Journalism and Mass Communications depth reporting class that has been covering Whiteclay since last fall. Other UNL students contributed to this story, including Vanessa Daves, Lauren Brown-Hulme and Matt Hanson. – Editor.)


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/20/2017
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I do understand there is a problem. But who's job is it to keep the natives out of alcohol. I still believe those that want or need the alcohol will find a way to get it. If its walking driving. I guess nobody is clamering to close casinos because the poor Nebraskans that have no business being there. And dont know any better or feeding an addiction. It allows the natives to make money and provide jobs.So we wont shut that down.Just food for thought
Posted by The Heckler    - 4/24/2017 12:14:18 PM
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I have been through Whiteclay several times, it is the most demoralizing, scary place that I can think of. South Dakota has the road signs along highways that states something about "Loss of Life" here. Not sure what exact wording is but between Whiteclay and nearest reservation, the highway is littered with signs. The actual town of Whiteclay has people laying in street, storefronts, empty lots, these passed out people lay there until they sober up, and repeat the cycle. Had motorcycle break down right in the vicinity of Whiteclay and I can tell you now the people that you can visually see, there is that many more that noticed break down and were coming towards us in a flock. Should I have been concerned for my safety? Well I was, didn't know if they would help or rob me!!! Picking them selves up out of street or storefront, it felt like the "walking Dead" felt they were looking for easy money and could become a victim. I am happy they denied the liquor license, it wont fix the problem, but it will be a good start. Give the reservations a chance to start to heal. Business owners be dammed!! you are a part of the problem, easy government money, They get the welfare check and you get rich selling. It will take the native americans a long time to heal, but still this is a step in the right direction. Ok let the bashing begin
Posted by saywhat, too    - 4/24/2017 6:45:08 AM
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Prohibition only served to create crime and increase the wealth of said criminals. It did not stop alcohol consumption. Moonshine anyone?
Posted by honestly    - 4/24/2017 2:37:57 AM
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NO ONE told the native americans that they had to go to Whiteclay and buy liquor they made there own choice and they will continue to get it one way or the other as they always have-I remember as a kid seeing drunk native a mericans sitting on business door steps -and doing some of the most dispicable things when and if they couldn't get to town any other way they would just simply in there mind borrow someone elses vehicle(most people call it stealing-so don't give me this crap that they have no way to get some place else-) but now instead of seeing so many of them at Valentine they are at the Rosebud Casino and on any given night outback selling there government commodities and spending the money in the casino-close the liquor stores in whiteclay but its not going to stop the overall problem
Posted by cat    - 4/23/2017 6:00:40 PM
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The merits of the decision aside; the Great White Fathers in Lincoln have again solved one problem, while creating another. What specific plans and resources will the Liquor Commission have in place on May 1st to address the behavior that usually follows forcing anyone with an addiction of any kind to go from consuming 3.2 million cans of beer a year to consuming none? Ready, Fire, Aim.
Posted by Road King    - 4/23/2017 9:42:40 AM
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They need to police themselves.
Posted by original    - 4/23/2017 7:37:10 AM
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joshua, you raise a good question. I'm not dead sure, but it would be up to Whiteclay to create a police force and levy the tax. I don't think they have the legal authority as an unincorporated village, nor the desire since the store owners are making money the way things are. Otherwise it falls to the county sheriff. I heard the sheriff's office is 40 miles away. This is the right decision. If the store owners want to keep selling, it's on them to come up with adequate law enforcement, same as a permit to sell as a Nebraskaland Days concert.
Posted by original    - 4/23/2017 7:35:55 AM
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From Frank LaMere: "I have been involved at Whiteclay for more than 18 years!  I never went there to pass judgement or to push for prohibition.  That tired old mantra and series of questions have been floated for years and have been circulated as a fear tactic pushed by the beer sellers and Big Alcohol!  There is absolutely no empirical evidence to support the contention that anyone would travel 22 miles to buy alcohol!  Native people who languish on the streets of Whiteclay have no vehicles and those who have transportation will simply go to border towns in SD!  Why do border towns in SD not have the problems that NE has at Whiteclay I would ask? It is because liquor laws are enforced there and the carnage and third world conditions at Whiteclay would not be tolerated anywhere in this country but NE! This being said know that I went there to address the lawlessness that all Nebraskans are aware of.  There have been at least five unsolved murders at Whiteclay in the last 20 years that we know of though I think there are more. There are sexual assaults and beatings that are too numerous to recount. It is widely reported that the beer sellers that all are so protective of trade sex for alcohol, EBT cards for alcohol, WIC vouchers for alcohol, and that they  knowingly sell to bootleggers who transport alcohol illegally onto Pine Ridge where alcohol is prohibited. They have never been prosecuted for supplying bootleggers but I opine that federal tax laws have been violated and the sellers have been complicit.   I could go on.  I am not qualified to even describe the impact and devastation brought about because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the hundreds of children who are crippled in the womb and through their lives because of alcohol traceable to Whiteclay.  The costs borne by taxpayers because of FAS at Whiteclay are astronomical (hundreds of millions) and if all NE and SD citizens knew the costs and were able to witness the daily life of one Lakota child who had no choice in this matter they would personally shut it down!  It is an obscenity beyond parallel.  We can beg the question!  That is easy to do!  I choose to address the matter head on if for no other reason that I think there is a reckoning and that we are being tested.  I seek to do the Creator's work.  It is that simple!  Together we will shut Whiteclay down!  If we have the nerve!" Respectfully,   Frank LaMere
Posted by Terry 1951    - 4/23/2017 6:57:14 AM
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So we strip the livelihoods of 4 law abiding business owners? Has anyone thought of a city of whiteclay tax on beer, say 10 cents a can of beer? Now do the math, it could easily pay for full time law enforcement, treatment facilities, education, etc. I say it was a major overreach of government.
Posted by joshuawelden    - 4/23/2017 5:20:39 AM
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I agree with you Greg, as far as you go. This is also what happens when liquor stores are set up next to a dry reservation, to profit from the self-destruction to which people head for those reasons. Certainly can't reverse 150 years of history. Established federal programs cannot be changed easily. But the state liquor control commission can and should refuse to issue a license when law enforcement is lacking around alcohol abuse.
Posted by original    - 4/22/2017 12:40:59 PM
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the 9000lb elephant is the room is this: THIS is what happens when you put people on perpetual welfare....no job they have to go to, no pride, nothing to occupy their time when all they have to do is and I quote what I have heard them say..."Wait until the Eagle shits..."...meaning, waiting on their welfare check. These are not people that have had everything taken from them...that was their LONG ago ancestors. These people have become (by our own government) to become leach's. Many (not all) have done absolutely nothing with their lives but hold their hands out for more. They are given free land,free homes, free food, free money, free education, etc. They could just as easily leave and chose to better themselves but decide to wallow in self pity. The easiest way to solve the problem is stop the welfare payments. I know nothing above of what I have said is easy to believe, easy to say, or easy to do, but it is true. What all our ancestors did to their ancestors was unspeakable, however,eventually, the pity party needs to stop and they simply need to move forward with their lives like everyone else has. The land taken was bought fair and square from the French, the French took it form the Indians....that is on the French government. What the US government did and allowed to be done is on Americans. We have paid hundreds of billions if not into the trillions to remedy this.Throwing money at the problem has only created more problems . We are all taught history in school, most generally we are taught white washed history and not correct history....because it is not politically correct or the powers that be simply dont want you to know the real truth.
Posted by Greg Renner    - 4/22/2017 2:37:45 AM
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The Heckler is so right and it'll get worse as the population travel to near by Nebraska towns to purchase alcohol. Not only highways will be less safe but so will the back roads; littering of trash and abandon cars, stealing to cover increase costs of travel, burden on legal system, jails & to those who'll break the law to bootleg. It's a huge problem with no answer even though drugs have moved to the Res also.
Posted by xmtgal    - 4/21/2017 6:44:37 PM
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Sure, it will take alcoholics time to recover, if they do. Traveling further will somewhat deter alcohol abuse, and if Whiteclay closes, it sends a strong message to the Rez not to drink to excess. Better law enforcement is a necessity.
Posted by original    - 4/21/2017 1:28:10 PM
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I hope this all real helps the people of the reservation. But I believe they will now just travel further to get their booze more chance of innocent people getting hurt. Move all the issues to a different location. Good plan
Posted by The Heckler    - 4/21/2017 6:21:37 AM
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thanks onlooker, corrected.
Posted by George Lauby    - 4/21/2017 12:05:23 AM
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Onlooker -Snyder represented the beer store owners. this decision will be repealed and I'm betting the store owners will win.
Posted by nebred    - 4/20/2017 8:13:47 PM
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I'm confused. Omaha attorney Dave Domina, who represented the beer store owners, was emotional after the vote. "I don't think you can be a human being and not be moved by it," he said breaking into tears. Meanwhile, Scottsbluff attorney Andrew Snyder, who represented the beer store owners, said he and his clients will appeal the case as soon as they receive a written decision from the liquor commission. "We believe the decision is wrong and contrary to law," he said. Who was representing the stores? Domina or Snyder?
Posted by Onlooker    - 4/20/2017 6:40:11 PM
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Hope they are happy for not letting those businesses sell beer. Now where are the ppl of whiteclay to work? They took er jobs!
Posted by stuperdave    - 4/20/2017 12:35:32 PM
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