Whiteclay's liquor licenses in peril

The tap runs dry for Whiteclay beer vendors

Nebraska Panel Denies Whiteclay Liquor License Applications

Whiteclay has about eight official residents, but combined, its liquor stores sell millions of cans of beer each year, much of it to Oglala Lakota tribal members.

Batt said the basis of the ruling was the lack of adequate law enforcement in the area, which is a condition for issuing a liquor license. The lawyer for the liquor store owners says there will be an appeal.

In the end, an impassioned Batt, whose family founded Nebraska Furniture Mart, said that the federal government needs to step up to address the "benign neglect" it has shown to the poverty, high unemployment and high rates of suicide and alcohol-related crime on the reservation.

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted three to zero to deny liquor licenses for four beer stores in Whiteclay.

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.

The district court could also hold the decision and restore the beer stores' licenses throughout the appeals process, which Snyder said they will request.

Andrew Snyder of Scottsbluff says that based on his study of previous Nebraska Supreme Court rulings, the commissioner acted under the wrong statute - using the one for new applications rather than the one for renewing existing licenses.

The four stores only sell beer. 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 DE combined. One commissioner said that law enforcement was "woefully inadequate" to allow liquor sales there.

Religious leaders who live in Whiteclay said they frequently see public drunkenness, human waste and Native Americans suffering from injuries.

The Sheridan County Board had recommended the licenses be renewed, claiming law enforcement was adequate.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina, who represented the beer store owners, was emotional after the vote.

During the April 7 hearing, 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.

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.

A woman who wanted to remain anonymous said she believes taking beer out of Whiteclay will just result in people moving 20 miles down the road to Rushville, or to Gordon. "Does this solve the problem of everything that goes on with the reservation?"

When asked what he will do if he can no longer get beer in Whiteclay, Derek Lonehill scratched his chin in thought for a moment, then said with a laugh, "We're just going to have to migrate back to Rapid (City)".

In a separate case, the Nebraska attorney general's office has filed 22 citations against the businesses for selling to bootleggers, failing to cooperate with investigators and other liquor-law violations.

"A dark cloud has been lifted off of Nebraska today", he said.

On Wednesday morning, she and several others gathered on the South Dakota-Nebraska state line on the edge of Whiteclay to await the decision. However, he said this isn't the end of addressing the problems that bring the Oglala Lakota there. "White people are the people who introduced us to alcohol in the first place".

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