- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

WHITECLAY, Neb. (AP) — The main business in this dusty village, population 12, is beer. Lots of it. Thousands of cans each week, millions of cans a year.

Most of the beer is sold to people from just across the state line at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where booze is banned but alcohol abuse is rampant.

Nebraska’s attorney general has responded to the situation by making an unusual move: He is turning over control of law enforcement in Whiteclay to the reservation’s tribe, even though it is a sovereign nation in a different state.

Oglala Sioux tribal officers soon will be deputized and given the legal right to enforce Nebraska law in the town. Nebraska and tribal leaders plan to sign the agreement Aug. 30.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said deputizing the tribe was the best option to deal with Whiteclay’s overwhelming problems stemming from alcohol-related crime, including drunken brawls in the street, theft and public intoxication.

“The issue is not so much the border. The issue is there is a massive alcohol problem in the area,” Mr. Bruning said. “The facts are that liquor stores licensed by the state of Nebraska sell the alcohol to the people that have the problem.”

The thirst for beer in Whiteclay is evident at State Line Liquor — one of three liquor stores in town. Cases of Milwaukee’s Best beer and Hurricane malt liquor are stacked to the ceiling. Within minutes on one summer day, one would-be customer tried to trade a used videocassette recorder and another peddled an electric screwdriver still in the package — with the goal of scoring some beer.

“They’ll sell you anything,” said store co-owner Dan Brehmer, who politely refused the offers.

The source of the alcohol problem in Whiteclay is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the alcoholism-related mortality rate is one of the nation’s highest. The reservation also is one of the poorest areas in the country, with unemployment near 80 percent.

Law enforcement in Whiteclay is rare, with the highway patrol and county sheriff occasionally showing up to patrol the streets. The sheriff’s department is based 20 miles away in Rushville.

“As far as I’m concerned, Whiteclay is an embarrassment and I’d like to see it go away. But the problem is the demand for alcohol,” said Rep. Tom Osborne, Nebraska Republican.

He and Rep. Stephanie Herseth, South Dakota Democrat, are working together to get congressional approval for ongoing funding for tribal patrols in Whiteclay.

Mr. Osborne secured $100,000 from the federal government for the current budget year to cover the cost of Pine Ridge officers patrolling the town. He and Miss Herseth have asked for another $100,000 for the next budget year.

The tribe says it is glad to address the problem in Whiteclay, as long as officers are given the adequate money for the extra patrols.

“You start out with a little piece. That will expand to another piece,” said Cecelia Fire Thunder, Oglala Sioux Tribe president. “Pretty soon we’ll be able to deal with all of the challenges that Whiteclay presents.”

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