Another Man's Poison:
Profit and Loss in White Clay
by Bill Kelly

NOTE: ...from recent AP News - American Indian activists Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt plan to attend a rally Saturday (June 26, 1999) at Pine Ridge to protest the investigation into the deaths of two men, according to the organizer.

The bodies of Wilson Black Elk Jr., 40, and Ronald Hard Heart, 39, were found June 8 in a culvert about 1 1/2 miles south of Pine Ridge near the Nebraska border. They were reportedly last seen June 6.


It could be the first week of any month of the year when paychecks and government support checks are cashed on the Oglala Sioux reservation. A lot of that money makes its way to four little stores with licenses to sell beer.
[Don Schwarting, liquor store owner] "The Ogallala Sioux people are fun loving, humorous, good-natured people. They enjoy getting together and having a good time or going places and having a good time. And this involves alcohol usually."
Don Schwarting knows he runs one of the most controversial businesses in Nebraska. Public opinion doesn't much matter to him when his customers cast their votes with dollars.
[Schwarting] "There's not anybody that's walked in here tonight that's made me the bad guy. Has there? No, not a one. It's not because they're customers or nothing, it's because they live here. But the guys that don't live here are making us look like the bad guys. They don't live here and they don't work here and don't want to."
None of the customers at the Arrowhead Inn cared to share their opinion with us that night. At the same time rush hour begins in White Clay, Officer John of the Ogallala Sioux tribal police is coming on duty.
[John Mousseau, Pine Ridge Police Dept.] "Very seldom do we come across an incident that isn't alcohol-related.
His tour of duty starts with a triple on the two-mile stretch of road between Pine Ridge and White Clay, once calculated to be the deadliest stretch of road in America.
[Mousseau] "We used to go up top of the hill because I lived where we could walk up top of the hill and we used to watch maybe about -- every weekend maybe two, maybe three car wrecks a week. A lot of them are fatalities, you know, so I grew up knowing a lot of negativity on this road, you know. I would hear a lot of people saying they're going to White Clay, automatically I would think of a car wreck, you know. A lot of people I knew that got killed on this road, you know."
This is a trading post in its classic sense. White business owners have been here since at least the turn of the century. It straddles a length of Nebraska State highway and begins where the reservation land ends. As soon as you cross the border out of South Dakota, Pine Ridge Reservation, you pass into Nebraska and you're in White Clay. It's unincorporated, only about 30 people live here if that, and there aren't very many businesses. The very first business you come across after that scrap yard, the Arrowhead Inn, one of the four liquor stores. They've got two grocery stores, one on either side of the road, an auto parts store, a couple of other shut down businesses and then three other liquor stores on the other end of town. After only about a minute, you have passed out of White Clay, and you're heading south to Rushville. If you stop for a while and not many non-Indians do, you can see what causes such pain and outrage. It's obvious the liquor sales are steady and often in unsettling quantities. The State of Nebraska estimates that four million cans of beer a year are sold here, probably the highest per capita sales in the entire state. The effects are obvious as well.
[Ambulance driver] "I'm barely 25 and there's guys up there younger than me now and they look like 40, 50 years old."
The teams that work as paramedics on the tribe's rescue squad expect at least one call a day off the reservation. When you hear that you've got a call coming from White Clay, how does it make you feel?
[Ambulance driver] "We try to figure out which one is it. After a while you get to know them by first name, you know who you're going after. I guess some of them don't stay down there, but they always come up here. They just go down there to get it and bring it back up here. It's kind of reservation-wide, I would say, because people still take it home and do the same thing, but they're just not staying up there. Just the regular ones that are up there all the time."
At the headquarters of tribal police, the officers and their acting chief of police think there's a link between other crimes -- thefts and burglaries -- in the sad cycle of alcohol abuse at White Clay.
[Wendell Yellow Bull, Acting Police Chief] "A lot of property is taken from our area and exchanged for alcohol. It kind of creates that clientele for a lot of things that happen here. You ask anybody, .....'Did you ever have something stolen?' ...'Yeah, I have.' Where do you think you would look for it? ..'Oh, I would go to White Clay and I would stop and go over to the beer establishment to see if it was taken there, pawned there."
[Kelly] "Why?"
[Yellow Bull] "Because that's where the majority of the stuff goes."
They are charges often made -- stolen property, even sex given in trade for beer. Often made but never proven. What is beyond question is that alcohol has taken a horrible toll on the Ogallala Sioux and most of the alcohol comes from White Clay in four little stores.
[John Yellowbird Steele, Ogallala Sioux, Chairman] "I had Mr. Little Jaw Means just the past few months murdered there. It was identified he was hitting the head with a blunt object. Mr. Thomas Twist, Mr. Berdoe in prior years murdered. The State of Nebraska doesn't seem to care in looking into or trying to resolve this."
The chairman of the Ogallala Sioux, John Yellowbird Steele, testified at the beginning of the year before the State's Liquor Control Commission. All four of the license holders were called before the board that requires businesses which sell liquor to follow the law. Once again law enforcement says their hands are tied. There have been no formal complaints about any of the stores.
[Terry Robbins, Sheriff, Sheridan Co.] "There ain't an officer that works for me that wouldn't say a liquor violation in a heartbeat if they seen it or had somebody complain or, you know, to get a conviction. It don't do no good to give a citation if you can't get a conviction."
The liquor license holders remain silent. Their attorney said they have done nothing wrong. Their business is legal.
[Don Dunn, Atty. for liquor stores] "We also recognize that we need to be a part of a plan of action to address those areas of concern."
The people most harmed, the Ogallala Sioux, admit they frequently won't work with the system and the system in this case, local and state regulators and law enforcement, have a history of letting things be in White Clay. That's been acceptable to the store owners.
[Kelly] "Is there anything you can do?"
[Schwarting] "I'm open to suggestions. What's your suggestions?"
[Kelly] "Your attorney said that you would be willing to do something."
[Schwarting] "I'm asking you what your suggestion would be?"
There are a lot of suggestions. At the same meeting, Frank Lemere of Nebraska' Winnebago tribe insisted the State take extreme action.
[Frank Lemere, Winnebago Tribe] "I have an answer to the problem in White Clay. We need to shut White Clay down. We need to shut it down tomorrow."
That won't happen. Liquor sales in White Clay won't stop without the complaints made, proof found, and legal proceedings completed.
[Highway Patrol Officer] "They are passed out all along this building right here and sitting outside drinking and there were a lot of cars parked there."
The commander of the Nebraska State Patrol took Governor Nelson on a tour last fall.
[Gov. Nelson] "Are most of the residents who live here, are they Native American?"
[Highway Patrol Officer] "All white."
The other business owners in town, and there are other businesses, told the Governor additional police patrols could take the edge off the problem that they see more a matter of public relations than public safety.
[Business Owner] "We're really taking a hit here, you know. I don't think anybody is doing anything illegal. Just maybe more visibility, you know, with some units and stuff like that."
[Gov. Nelson] "If you could change anything, what would you change?"
[Business Owner] "I think just a little more visibility probably."
[Gov. Nelson] "Law enforcement, you mean?
"It's not something that just sits here to serve alcohol totally just to try to destroy somebody. It's definitely not there to do that."
Just up the road minutes later when the Governor tried unsuccessfully to speak with a clerk at one of the liquor stores, one of the customers did take a moment of the Governor's time to ask for spare change.
[Gov. Nelson] "I don't think I can help you out, I'm sorry. I don't have any extra money. I'm just getting ready to go to Asia."
Money is another issue here. For the State Patrol, Captain Tussing pointed out that spending more time in a town with barely 30 people diverts troopers from other far flung panhandle towns. The Sheridan County sheriff has limited resources and an all white corp of deputies who get little cooperation.
[Native American elder] "We're not dogs and we're not monkeys... you know!"
[Highway Patrol Officer] "We're trying to figure out how we can help you."
[Native American elder] "Us Indians we help ourselves. Just stay out of the business... and no more cameras."
In a backwards sense, the tribe itself has created White Clay. Alcohol cannot be sold on the reservations. In an effort to protect its people from liquor, it has handed a business opportunity to Nebraska's white entrepreneurs.
[Mousseau] "A lot of people don't like to talk about it but I think legalizing alcohol down here is one of the solutions they should seriously look at. What they could do is do the same thing and take that money they're making and open up treatment centers."
[Mousseau] "Hello. Somebody reported Tom as being drunk and driving all over. Is he okay?"
[Woman at door]"Mm-hmm."
It is not likely the tribe will lift its ban on alcohol in light of the bitter history of alcohol and Native Americans.
[Wendell Yellow Bull] "Legalize it and bring it here, then whose problem is it next? It's going to be ours. Once it's ours, then the question is the money that we generate, is it truly going to help our tribe or do we just become a formalized drug sale."
[Mousseau] "Let's go... give you a nice warm place to sleep... ..c'mon... let's go. There's a lot of kids here... let's go. Let's go out this way. Come on...right over here. See where my car is parked. Come on. I will help you walk."
There is clearly a need for treatment of alcoholics on the reservation and it frustrates tribal leaders that of the tens of thousands of dollars paid in liquor taxes to Nebraska, none of it is used to help native people get the treatment needed to break their cycle of addiction. The only convenient option in the panhandle is a tiny clinic over in Gordon.
[Judy Morgan, NE Indian Commission] "Nebraska is benefiting financially and those establishments, those owners, their family are generation after generation making millions of dollars and the tribe isn't and the people aren't and they're not getting any dollars for rehab for alcohol treatment."
The director of Nebraska's Indian Commission has been working with tribal leaders from Pine Ridge and State officials to find if not solutions at least some responses to reduce the impact of Nebraska's alcohol on the Sioux people.
[Morgan] "Well, I don't think it's hopeless and I think, you know, I'm not going to buy into that well, it's always happened so let's just let it go on happening."
Meanwhile there hasn't been much change in the nightly routine of the tribal police officers dealing with White Clay's customers.
[Mousseau] "I mean, if they want to drink, they're still going to get it. White Clay, you know, if maybe more patrol up there but shutting down White Clay, I don't think it is going to solve anything but it might be a step."

They marched for their brothers...

We will return...

Mean streets...


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