Whiteclay

A Native American man who asked not to be identified sleeps on the cold concrete of a chapel as the dawn light breaks in Whiteclay in October 2016, months before the village’s four beer stores were shut down.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star file photo

A special legislative task force has targeted construction of a cellular tower and an alcohol treatment-and-detox center as key objectives in meeting the emergency needs stemming from the long history of alcohol sales to Native Americans in Whiteclay.

Also on its priority list is construction of a Whiteclay memorial intended to “ensure that future generations never forget the suffering perpetrated on the Oglala Lakota people at Whiteclay.”

The four liquor stores that had been located in Whiteclay, within walking distance of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, sold 3.5 million cans of beer and high-alcohol malt liquor annually before they were closed earlier this year.

In April, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted to deny extension of liquor licenses to the four establishments.

A legislative task force comprised of Sens. Tom Brewer of Gordon, Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, Mark Kolterman of Seward and Tony Vargas of Omaha was created at about the same time to assess the public health implications resulting from that history of voluminous alcohol sales.

“Nebraska’s actions and inactions in Whiteclay have had devastating consequences for the people on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which linger to this day,” the committee stated in a report released Wednesday.

While alcohol is banned on the reservation, more than one in four babies born there suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, the committee stated, while noting that other studies have pegged the alcoholism rate as high as 80 percent and pointing to high percentages of infant mortality and teen suicide.

Construction of a cellular tower in or near Whiteclay would “greatly enhance public safety in the region, help facilitate distance learning and give individuals access to telehealth services,” the committee noted. The tower would replace one that was recently destroyed.

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A treatment-and-detox center in the Whiteclay area is a high priority, the senators said, and the task force pledged to work with the Oglala Lakota Nation, local officials, nonprofits and others to achieve that goal.

“One possible idea is a treatment center being located somewhere on certain tribal land that crosses the South Dakota border and sits to the west of Whiteclay within the boundaries of the State of Nebraska,” the committee said.

Those will be among the goals that the task force will prioritize in 2018, the report stated.

In addition, the senators said, they will continue to work with Natives and local Nebraska officials to spur economic development in the region.

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