Tribal police searched each and every vehicle returning from Whiteclay, Nebraska on Monday night, as a long line of drivers headed for the Pine Ridge Reservation waited patiently. It was minus-two degree weather where the South Dakota border meets the tiny town of Whiteclay, where 4 million cans of beer are sold each year, mostly to reservation residents.
“This is a call to action not just to the state, but to our own nation and our own officials,” activist Autumn Two Bulls, Lakota, declared about the New Year’s Eve roadblock. “We have a serious problem. Everybody says we should legalize alcohol, but it is not and has never been, a part of our Lakota traditions, and it never, ever, will be. In our Lakota way, alcoholism and spirituality cannot coexist together.”
Two Bulls said that of all the battles the Lakota have faced, there has never been one like substance abuse. She likened the sale of alcohol at Whiteclay to genocide, and compared the consumption of alcohol to self-induced genocide.
Olowan Martinez, Lakota, and Two Bulls have been working together as mothers, daughters, and granddaughters against substance abuse. According to Martinez, the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay is implicated in trading alcohol for sex, homicides and physical violence, and alcohol sales to minors and intoxicated people. She added that everyone who lives on the reservation “has been witness to ways of getting alcohol” in Whiteclay.
Martinez added that there is only one alcohol treatment facility on the reservation, and she believes it is not adequate to meet the tribe’s needs. “If you look at the health problems, suicide, beatings, rapes, car wrecks, there is alcohol behind it. I would go so far as to say 99 percent, and even 99.9 percent, there is alcohol behind it. There has been 100 years of alcoholism, generations of alcoholism.”
Statistics culled by Alcohol Justice, a California based group that is working towards holding producers of alcohol and their distributors responsible for the effects of alcohol abuse, reflect two-thirds of Pine Ridge residents suffer from alcoholism and 25 percent of the reservation’s youth suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.
Martinez and Two Bulls want to project a better lifestyle for the youth than they might see at home. “We are trying to get the youth to see they don’t have to sit around and take it anymore. You don’t have to deal with drunk parents for the rest of your life,” Martinez said.
Tribal Police Sgt. Ken Franks, Lakota, and Two Bulls were pleased with the effects of the roadblock. Two Bulls said that an impact and statement had been made, and Franks said that of all the cars stopped, alcohol was found in only one. The roadblock was in place from 7 p.m. until midnight, when the liquor stores closed.
A short ride into Whiteclay proved that the roadblock had indeed been effective. No cars were seen in the lots and the streets were clear of traffic. Mike McFarland, a clerk at Whiteclay’s State Line Liquor Store, admitted, “Once they put up the roadblocks, it went dead,” though he admitted business before the roadblocks had been brisk.