WHITECLAY, Neb. — Activists are calling for more reforms in a tiny Nebraska town even after a state Supreme Court decision closed the community's beer stores that sold millions of cans of beer each year despite an alcohol ban on a nearby Native American reservation.
A group of activists gathered last week to discuss more action needed in and around Whiteclay, which borders South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Despite the town having only nine residents, its four beer stores sold the equivalent of about 3.5 million cans annually.
Whiteclay has been criticized for lacking adequate law enforcement and serving for decades as a remote spot for people to panhandle, loiter, fight and pass out on sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the nearby reservation has faced a litany of alcohol-related problems, such as high rates of alcoholism and fetal-alcohol syndrome.
Winnebago activist Frank LaMere said that if alcohol is still finding its way to the reservation, "we're going to hold people's feet to the fire, and that includes the Nebraska State Patrol, the state of Nebraska, the state of South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe."
Activists are working with the Nebraska State Patrol to fight possible bootlegging in neighboring cities and to form a cold-case unit to investigate mysterious deaths. They're urging lawmakers to provide more funding to enforcement efforts to curb bootlegging, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The activists are also planning to create a clinic for the Pine Ridge area to diagnose and treat fetal-alcohol syndrome.
Whiteclay still faces issues but has become safer than it was before the state high court's ruling, said John Maisch, a former alcohol regulator who produced a documentary on Whiteclay and fought to close the town's beer stores.
"To my knowledge, there have been no reports of any assaults or rapes or murders on the streets of Whiteclay," he said. "So, it's unequivocally better in Whiteclay now than it was when the stores were open."
But Maisch said that reform efforts aren't over just because the town's beer stores are closed.
"I think that we have a continuing obligation to address the harm that was caused by the beer stores when they were open," he said.