History books overflow with Native tribes being wronged by federal and state governments. In ruling that Whiteclay’s beer stores must remain closed, the Nebraska Supreme Court awards a rare victory to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Barring an unforeseen legal development, the four beer stores in the Sheridan County hamlet that exported 3.5 million cans of beer, primarily to the adjacent reservation, will remain closed. That decision is a victory for the tribes and activists who sought this outcome for decades.
A Native activist called the ruling’s impact for the Oglala Lakota people possibly the biggest since Sitting Bull defeated George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
In 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt all but eliminated a 50-square-mile buffer zone around Pine Ridge that was designed to prevent alcohol sales, unscrupulous traders were more than happy to make a quick buck by hawking liquor to Native populations. Until this year, Nebraska had been the hub for selling alcohol to the officially dry reservation.
After the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission ordered the stores closed in April, vagrants were no longer passed out on Whiteclay’s sidewalks. Alcohol-fueled assaults stopped. Last week's ruling reaffirming the state edict is both cause for celebration and a reminder of the long road ahead.
Closing down the nearest and most convenient beer stores won’t solve the problems of widespread substance abuse — and the health crises it causes — on the reservation.
Bootlegging remains a problem and people determined to purchase booze have showed they’re willing to drive to Rushville or Chadron to get their fix. Three fatal alcohol-related car crashes near the reservation have demonstrated as much.
But Nebraska fueled this problem for more than a century. It’s our turn to begin undoing the legacy of harm peddled across the state line in South Dakota, where the reservation reports high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and a life expectancy similar to a Third World country.
The court’s ruling ends Nebraska’s overt, direct contributions to the scourge of alcoholism at Pine Ridge. But it by no means absolves this state of responsibility in the community and family problems caused by Whiteclay. A victory in the courts is only the first step toward fixing the societal ills to which Nebraska contributed for years.
By essentially guaranteeing Whiteclay will remain dry, the Nebraska Supreme Court has blotted out the stain of beer sales. Now, Nebraska must help in the long, arduous process of restoring the fabric of the Pine Ridge reservation after years of worsening the Natives’ plight.