There were four alcohol outlets in the unicorporated border town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. These stores sold four million cans of beer annually – exploiting the Native American community nearby. The alcohol outlets left a deep scar by increasing alcohol harm among the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
In 2017, the Nebraska Liquor Commission declined to renew the stores’ liquor licenses. It took years of work by community groups and various people to finally achieve this milestone.
Since then, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation has been working for healing the Native American community of the Lakota people. The organization started the Pine Ridge Reservation to connect young people to the Lakota way of life. They conduct a range of initiatives to enhance the Oglala Lakota Oyate such as food sovereignty, Lakota language education, housing and home ownership, a regenerative community development and more.
Recently, Thunder Valley CDC acquired 48 acres of land in Whiteclay with plans to build a holistic healing community.
It’s tremendous because we’re able to be really intentional about building a healing community that is focused on really our relatives that are on the periphery, those that are forgotten or invisible or having a harder time accessing resources,” said Tatewin Means, Thunder Valley CDC Executive Director and Former Oglala Sioux Tribe attorney general, as per SDPB.
Tatewin Means, Thunder Valley CDC Executive Director
The idea for the community is to build transitional housing or permanent supportive housing with access to resources in one central space.
Tatewin Means believes that healing from the colonial traumas and alcohol harm is the first step to liberation and reclaiming the Lakota way of living for her people.
For years, 11,000 cans of beer a day were poured into the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, causing untold damages. In 2017, when the alcohol outlets finally stopped operations after years of fight against the alcohol industry, The Guardian reported.
The Pine Ridge reservation is a vast, 3,500-sq mile rectangle of land at the south-western base of South Dakota. Pine Ridge is home to 20,000 Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe members. The sale of alcohol is banned. Native Americans look back at a century-long struggle with “the liquor machine” as white colonialists used liquor as tool for oppression.
Professor Mark Lawrence Schrad summarzied his research into how alcohol was used to oppress Native Americans in a twitter-thread.
Pine Ridge is the only reservation in South Dakota where the sale and possession of alcohol is illegal. A tribal vote in 2013 legalized alcohol sales but was never implemented. That means the “dry” status has been enacted since the beginning of the reservation in 1889.
But outside Pine Ridge lies Whiteclay, Nebraska. The town has no local government and only 14 residents.
Whiteclay is a hole,” said Olowan Martinez, Lakota woman, according to The Guardian.
It’s been based on liquid genocide for generations.”
Olowan Martinez, Lakota woman
For over a century, Whitelcay’s primary purpose has been to sell alcohol to the reservation’s residents. Activists have long argued it has decimated the tribe.
In 2017, The Guardian reported:
Addiction is endemic here. Up to two-thirds of adults live with alcoholism. One in four children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Life expectancy is just 66.8 years. Fueled by poverty and addiction – the unemployment rate hovers around 80% – the suicide rate is over four times the national average.”Oliver Laughland and Tom Silverstone, The Guardian, 2017
But now, since Whiteclay’s closure new hope and opportunity are tangible to the people of Pine Ridge.