Liquor Licenses Denied for Whiteclay Beer Stores Near Pine Ridge Reservation

The unanimous decision against renewing liquor licenses for beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, is seen as the beginning of a 'healing.'

For years, the four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, have been at the center of controversy. Located just two miles south of the dry Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, the establishments have perpetuated alcohol-related illnesses in Indian country, opponents of the stores have said.

But the days of beer sales in Whiteclay now appear numbered.

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On April 19, the state liquor board unanimously voted against renewing the licenses for Whiteclay. The decision was hailed as a victory for Oglala Lakota people. Many who were in attendance along with other Native Americans from nearby tribes erupted in cheers as the decision was read.

“I never expected this to happen,” Bryan Brewer, the former Oglala Lakota Tribe president, told the Associated Press. “I’m just really surprised and thankful. Now, we have to start our healing process.”

Bob Batt, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission chairman, said it's time that the federal government recognize the problems plaguing Indian country. Specifically addressing the Oglala Lakota people and the Pine Ridge reservation, Batt told the AP, “they are human beings. They are really suffering.”

Yet not all were excited about the decision.

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The attorney for the beer stores, Andrew Snyder, said the liquor stores were not at fault and that the owners complied with state liquor laws, the AP reported. “They’re disappointed, but they’re resolved to see it through” Snyder said. “The commission was wrong, and we believe the decision was contrary to the law.”

Snyder told the Omaha World Herald the decision “is more proof that this is politically motivated and not based on the facts.”

But Brewer, who for years demonstrated against the beer stores in Whiteclay, has maintained the position that the stores are illegally operating on treaty-protected territory. “You know, it’s there illegally. It’s our land, it’s part of our treaties is that 10-mile buffer zone. So we’re going to push that right now,” Brewer told local news station KELO in 2013.

Frank LaMere, a Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska member who was in attendance during the hearing Wednesday, wiped tears when he heard the decision. “Today I am proud to be a Nebraskan,” LaMere told the AP. “But our work is just beginning.”

LaMere, who has fought to end the liquor sales in Whiteclay, added that it’s a win not just for Native Americans, for all citizens of the state.

“I think today that the Oglala Lakota people won. I think Nebraskans won. We’ll be better for it in this state,” LaMere told the Omaha World Herald.

For decades, Native Americans have pushed against the ‘drunken Indian’ stereotype, and in 2016 a study was released that provided empirical evidence that white people drink significantly more than Native Americans, and that the nations’ first peoples are more likely to abstain.

Snyder said they plan to appeal the decision.