A-Rod and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

My daughter Amanda is serious in her likes and dislikes.  She does not like any sports, and she harasses me for being a fan of most sports, even when I try to explain to her that for me sports is a stress relief, sports takes my mind off day to day problems that are so stressful.  Yesterday was an interesting study in contrasts at our house.  We learned of steroid use of Major League Baseball’s best known player, Alex Rodriguez, but we also received and watched a DVD called Battle for Whiteclay. More about the DVD in a minute.


I don’t know what to say about Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, aka A-Fraud.  On one hand, his use of steroids calls into question all that he has accomplished.  However, to me, the Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and A-Rod stories call into question the integrity of Major League Baseball.  And when the biggest names in baseball use steroids, exactly what do you think every kid with a hint of baseball talent is going to figure he has to do?  I love the game, but the player’s union and the owners have got to come up with something better than they have in place.  What is going on now is far too much “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” and it truly dishonors the history of the game, and all the incredibly talented players who in years past played for a pittance compared to what the pampered players of today take home.


If you have ever read my blog “Stepping up To the Plate,” you know I harbor a somewhat flighty dream of playing baseball again, at the advanced age of 58.  Others play in senior leagues, I haven’t lost all common sense. My baseball playing dream is still in place, and I will admit to needing to use drugs to play again.  However, I don’t think ibuprofen or Icy Hot is against the law in most states.


The A-Rod story gets all the press, but there is a greater, far more tragic drug story played out in the Battle for Whiteclay.  I urge you to Google “Battle for Whiteclay” and learn more about what I feel is a scarlet letter of shame that the state of Nebraska and Sheridan County in the northwest corner of the state should wear forever.  The A is for alcoholism, and how the unincorporated burg of Whiteclay contributes to rampant alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.


Before I go on battering Whiteclay, I understand that some of you will contend that there is an individual sense of responsibility involved in alcoholism.  I agree.  However, the two South Dakota counties that comprise the Pine Ridge Reservation are among the poorest in the United States.  A sense of economic hopelessness leads to drinking.  A total intolerance for alcohol leads to rampant alcoholism on the reservation. I don’t claim to understand the Lakota way of life, nor do I have an answer that would provide jobs on the reservation.  Treatment has to be another factor in the equation which is so complex.  I do know that if meth is easily available, a meth addict will use it.  Same with heroin or crack cocaine.  For the Lakota, alcohol is just as deadly, and Whiteclay makes it readily available.


Alcohol is illegal on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  However, Whiteclay, Nebraska sits only 200 feet south of the border, and barely two miles from Pine Ridge, the reservation’s largest population center.  The 2000 census showed Whiteclay had 14 residents.  14 residents do not need four beer stores.  And the 14 residents of Whiteclay certainly do not drink the 12,500 cans of beer sold there everyday. The number was no typo, over 4,000,000 cans of beer are sold by the four Whiteclay beer sellers.


A January 28, 1999 story by Bruce E. Johansen in the Native American Journal stated the following:  “One day during the summer of 1997, Frank LaMere, a Winnebago, who is executive director of the Nebraska Inter-Tribal Development Corp., visited Whiteclay.  He counted 32 intoxicated Indians on the streets of Whiteclay at 5:15 a.m., and 47 drunks of the streets in the afternoon, some of whom were fighting each other.  Several other Indians were passed out at the intersection of Nebraska Highway 87 and the road that leads to the reservation.  Others were urinating on the street.”


The article continues: Shortly after he visited Whiteclay, LaMere asked the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to shut Whiteclay down, stating “I don’t know what constitutes infractions of liquor laws in Whiteclay, but my good sense tells me there is something terribly wrong.  What I saw in Whiteclay would not be acceptable in Omaha or Lincoln.  If we walked down O Street in Lincoln and saw 47 students from the University of Nebraska passed out in the streets or engaged in violent situations, we would consider jerking the licenses of those liquor establishments.”


How relevant can a ten year old article be?  Little has been done to change the situation in Whiteclay, and if anything the situation is more desperate than in 1999.  Alcoholism-related deaths on the Pine Ridge reservation are nearly double the average for other reservations, and nine times the overall national average.  Life expectancy on the reservation is less than in Haiti. And, the state of Nebraska collects over $300,000 in sales and alcohol taxes from the four businesses that profit from the misery of the Oglala Sioux people.


Alcohol is illegal on the reservation.  The four Whiteclay beer stores are all off-sale establishments-it is illegal to drink on the premises of those businesses.  It is illegal to have an open container in a car in Nebraska, as it is to drink on public streets.  There is no legal place for Pine Ridge residents to drink the 12,500 cans of beer they purchase everyday in Whiteclay.  However, Whiteclay is in a remote corner of Nebraska, and gets little attention from the Nebraska State Patrol, and the nearest Nebraska law enforcement agency is in Rushville, 22 miles from Whiteclay.  Despite being available just a short distance from Whiteclay, tribal police have no authority in Nebraska, and efforts to deputize them in Nebraska fell through because of funding concerns.  So no authority enforces Nebraska law in Whiteclay.


I am not talking of the laws broken by Indians in Whiteclay, rather the laws broken by the beer sellers.  Again, it is illegal to drink on the premises of an off-sale establishment, but countless videos have been paid of such activity.  It is illegal to sell to someone who is intoxicated, accept maybe in Whiteclay.  It is illegal to sell alcohol on credit, and it is illegal to barter alcohol for sexual favors, but both are known to have taken place in Whiteclay.  And despite these facts, all four beer stores retain their liquor licenses.


I have a deep love for my home state and its people.  Travelers may pooh-pooh the beauty of the state, but those travelers never leave I-80.  The northwest corner of Nebraska is an extension of the Black Hills of South Dakota, and is incredibly beautiful.  Yet amidst this beauty likes the state’s dark secret.  Whiteclay is truly a moral outrage.  The state of Nebraska and its people have shirked social responsibility for decades.  Failure to accept this responsibility raises the question of a double standard in the state, and suggests at least covert racism. 


Would shutting down Whiteclay merely transfer the problem to some more distant location?  I have a difficult time accepting this notion, because many of the people who walk to Whiteclay do not have the transportation to travel further to obtain alcohol.  Would this lead to bootlegging?  Perhaps, but alcohol traffic on the reservation can be policed.  Certainly shutting down Whiteclay is only part of the solution.  Education, treatment, and economic development must also occur.


Americans relate to the horrors suffered by thousands in far away Africa.  We should take note of such obscenities and use our might and our resources to help people with such desperate needs.  However, the plight of a Native American people should not be ignored either.  The problems facing the Pine Ridge reservation have been ongoing for generations.  However, the problems facing people in the Middle East have been ongoing for thousands of years, and we understand that we need to help those people work through differences despite a history that makes success questionable.  Should we do less for our own citizens?


Thanks for stopping by.


And please visit www.battleforwhiteclay.org for additional information.



~ by Ron Meyer on February 9, 2009.

2 Responses to “A-Rod and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation”

  1. Wow, Ron. I was very interested to read your post, here, as I saw it come up on twitter. I have a blog-friend that lives at Pine Ridge. I’ve followed her in social blog communities for a few years, now. I’m very familiar with exactly what is going on at Pine Ridge.

    It is deplorable.

    But, there are so many sides to the same coin, with respect to behaviors of people.

    And everyone must realize that pride has gotten into the way of government “help,” too.

    I would rather see the revenue from what the people are choosing as their way of dealing, with their poor lives, turned back into what they need…

    In almost all direct sales businesses, that I’ve worked, I was discouraged that most of my customers should not have used any of my products, at all. ever. Its what led me away from those businesses. I made a more ethical choice.

    I don’t fault the liquor stores, there, for any of this. This is part of what Free Enterprise is all about.

    yes, you are right.. more policing could be done.. and that could be where some of that tax revenue could be pointed, too..

    I’m glad that you blogged this. I think if more people were to let others know what is really going on, on our own American soil, they might see why we have enough to do, in our own backyards, that we have no business going elsewhere.

    I don’t think that taking away all alcohol, when there is a clear problem, with alcohol, there, will help, though.

    The alcohol is the solution that the people are choosing. It is not the problem. Unfortunately, we can do little to police morality.

  2. I do appreciate your reading the blog and commenting. The responsibility of the individual is something that did bother me in this piece. There is certainly that, and the responsibility of the tribe to the individual. What complicates the situation is the total lack of economic opportunity on the reservation. Almost anyone who has fruitful employment works for some type of government agency, meaning most are unemployed. Alcohol is hardly a solution, especially when the Sioux people have no tolerance for it at all. They turn to it out of desperation, and it seems like Whiteclay is the equivalent of one big crack house. I think there is a morality issue when it comes to selling to already intoxicated people, or exchanging alcohol for sexual favors. Removing Whiteclay isn’t exactly the solution to the problem, but I don’t think there can be a solution without removing it.

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