THE WOUNDS OF WHITECLAY
Les blessures de Whiteclay
Les Sioux possèdent une grande réserve dans la partie méridionale du Dakota du Sud. Si l’alcool est interdit sur leur territoire ce n’était, jusqu’au mois dernier, pas le cas à Whiteclay, un village situé juste derrière la frontière du Nebraska où se vendaient jusqu’à cinq millions de canettes de bière par an. Après une longue bataille juridique, les quatre magasins ont fermé leurs portes… temporairement ?
The Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, the site of the battle of Wounded Knee, contains one of the poorest counties in America; and every one of its residents is affected, in some way, by alcoholism. So says Robert Brave Heart senior, one of the leaders of Red Cloud, a private Catholic school founded in 1888 by Jesuits at the request of Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala Lakota, the tribe of Crazy Horse. Most of his people, says Mr Brave Heart, cannot drink alcohol in moderation. He thinks he is one of them. After bad experiences with booze as a teenager, he has not touched alcohol for 40 years.
2. Alcohol has been banned in Pine Ridge since 1889, except for a few months in the 1970s. Yet two-thirds of adults on the reservation are alcoholics; alcohol-fuelled domestic violence is rampant; and one in four babies born on the reservation is irreversibly damaged by fetal-alcohol syndrome, a range of neurological defects caused by mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy. 3.One of the main sources of alcohol for the reservation’s residents is Whiteclay, a tiny hamlet of 11 residents just a short walk away across the state line in Nebraska. Whiteclay, which has no school and no grocery shop, seems to exist solely to sell booze. On April 19th Nebraska’s state liquor board voted to revoke the licences of Whiteclay’s four liquor stores, which are due to expire on April 30th. They argued that the town is not well enough policed: reason enough to revoke a licence. A lawyer for the shops said at once that his clients would appeal.
4. Activists such as Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago tribe, who has fought for 22 years to shut down the shops, are jubilant about the state board’s decision. They argue that the shops have been making immoral profits from the misery of vulnerable residents of the reservation. Last year the shops sold an astonishing 3.6m cans of beer, or seven cans per minute, almost all to the Lakota Sioux.
A BIG PROBLEM
5. Yet Mr Brave Heart and others are sceptical about the licence revocation. They say those who want to drink will simply drive to get their booze farther afield, which will increase both the already high number of fatal drunk-driving car crashes, and bootlegging. “Alcoholism is a social and spiritual problem,” says Mr Brave Heart. It cannot be reversed with the stroke of a pen.
6.Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democratic state senator from Nebraska, is the author of the bill creating the Whiteclay public health emergency task-force, which unanimously passed the unicameral statehouse on April 24th. She agrees that it will take more than prohibition to help the alcoholics in Pine Ridge. Ms Pansing Brooks wants a substation of the Nebraska state patrol set up in Whiteclay, as well as demolition of abandoned buildings where crime and trafficking are rife. She also wants to create a detox centre with a job-training programme, and promote economic development by giving residents access to wireless broadband. She says she feels a duty to do something because of her state’s complicity in destroying the tribe. 7.Her efforts are backed by Tom Brewer, Nebraska’s first Native-American state senator, who grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation. As a staunch Republican, he is at the other end of the political spectrum, but the two senators are united in their outrage at what is happening in Pine Ridge.
8.More than half—perhaps 80%—of its adults are unemployed. About half live below the federal poverty line. Almost one-third are homeless. Men die, on average, at 47 and women at 55. Almost half the population older than 40 is diabetic. The infant mortality rate is triple the national average, the suicide rate of teenagers is more than double and obesity is an even bigger problem than in the rest of the Midwest.
9. Students of journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln recently pro- duced a wide-ranging report on the impact of the liquor shops on the reservation. It was called “The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy”. Those wounds will take a long time to heal, if they ever do.
Alcohol has been banned in Pine Ridge since 1889.
A truck delivering alcohol to bars and liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb. before it trickled to a halt.