Judi gaiashkibos says $15,000 isn't a lot of money to be asking to help out the people who live near the Nebraska-South Dakota border town of Whiteclay.

"$15,000 is just such a small amount of money it's almost embarrassing," gaiashkibos said. "But I also think it's hopeful and promising, and so you have to start somewhere."

The executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs was speaking to the Legislature's Appropriations Committee during a hearing last week on a bill http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/view_bill.php?DocumentID=12665" target="_blank">(LB282) introduced by Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth. It would make $15,000 available from the state's general fund for the Commission on Indian Affairs to continue improvements in the Whiteclay area.

If something could be done about the liquor problem, Louden said, the area also could benefit the tax structure of Nebraska.

Nebraska gains financially from four liquor stores and other businesses in Whiteclay and the surrounding area that sell to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Louden said.  

In 2009, a little more than $273,000 was collected in state sales tax from Whiteclay, Louden said. The alcohol tax was $133,674.

Twenty businesses are located in the Whiteclay zip code -- four of them off-sale beer stores.

Nebraska receives the lion's share of revenue off that reservation, which has an estimated population of more than 28,000, Louden said.

Whiteclay businesses sold 206,704 cases of beer last year. That's 4.96 million cans, 59.5 million ounces of beer.

The problems of Whiteclay, population 24, and beer sales to Natives who live across the border are well documented.

Last year, Louden asked the Legislature for $250,000 and got $25,000 as seed money for a grant program for economic development, law enforcement and health programs there.

The Sheridan County Sheriff's Office will use a $10,000 grant for increased enforcement in the area when the weather gets warmer and people are out in the evenings.

Louden said the sheriff is using a security camera purchased through a $9,000 Homeland Security grant to monitor the Whiteclay area. Recently, the camera picked up the image of a person lying in the street, and a patrol officer was able to get the person out of the cold.  

A pending $15,400 grant application would benefit youths learning life skills and help businesses, including the Native Quilting Shop, Third World Enterprises and 555 Recycling.

Gaiashkibos said she sees hope.

The Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Tribe is scheduled to begin building a 60-bed nursing home this spring about a half-mile from Whiteclay.

"Maybe the stars are aligned. ... People's hearts are in the right place," she said Thursday.

She has spent a lot of time working on getting this small amount of money, she said.

"At the end of the day, we are making a difference in the lives of children who live on the reservation," she said.

Whiteclay will be in the national spotlight when ABC's "20/20" and Diane Sawyer, ABC World News anchor, do a special report this year on families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

ABC producer Claire Weinraub said ABC has been following the families for eight months. The program will air this spring or early summer.

Weinraub said the report will be about inspirational kids trying to make it in spite of tough situations. ABC and Sawyer have done similar programs on the hopes, dreams and hardships of kids living in Camden, N.J., and the life of children in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky.  

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.