The Oglala Sioux Tribe has filed a most interesting lawsuit against brewers, retailers and distributors of alcohol sold in Whiteclay, Neb. The lawsuit was announced at a news conference last month set up by Nebraskans for Peace. It is alleged in the suit that the Defendants named are engaged in a common enterprise focused on assisting and participating in the illegal importation of alcohol, sold at Whiteclay, onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The sale, possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal on the reservation, where tribal members suffer from crippling poverty and alcoholism rates. Interestingly, Whiteclay is located less than 250 feet from the reservation border. Tom White, a lawyer with the White and Jorgensen Law Offices in Omaha, is legal counsel for the Oglala, and he had this to say about the suit:
The Oglala Sioux Tribe seeks compensation for all of the damages the Lakota people have suffered as a result of illegal alcohol sales. The Defendants have failed to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the State of Nebraska and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
The Tribe’s vice president, Tom Poor Bear, said the tribe can “now begin to address the terrible harm to the Lakota people caused by Whiteclay alcohol sales.” Two of Poor Bear’s brothers were murdered and found outside Whiteclay in 1999. Since then Poor Bear has fought to bring their killers to justice and to close the Whiteclay beer stores.
Poor Bear has been assisted by Frank LaMere, a Winnebago Tribe activist, and Nebraskans for Peace, a statewide peace and justice organization. Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace, putting things in perspective, said:
Whiteclay has fewer than a dozen residents, yet in 2010 its four licensed retail stores sold the equivalent of 4.9 million 12-ounce servings of beer—or over 13,000 cans a day—to a population that has no legal place to drink them. Much of the beer is bootlegged onto Pine Ridge for resale.
The struggle by Native American activists to address this situation was featured in Vasina’s award-winning 2008 documentary “The Battle for Whiteclay.” It was pointed out by Frank LaMere, who has directed attention to Whiteclay since 1997, that “those involved in the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay are knowingly contributing to this notorious, illegal behavior and preying upon the Lakota people.” I hope this lawsuit is successful. It’s quite obvious that the Defendants knew exactly what they were doing in providing easy access to alcohol on the reservation.
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