For more than a century the tiny town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, has existed almost entirely as a home to liquor stores serving the Oglala Sioux tribe living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. While the reservation is legally dry, the millions of cans of beer sold annually by Whiteclay’s four liquor stores contributed to astronomical rates of alcoholism and poverty and rampant crime, both in the streets of Whiteclay and all over the adjacent reservation.
In recent years, the unique demographic and social issues of Whiteclay garnered national attention from the New York Times and National Geographic. But a dozen years ago, a team of reporters and photographers from the Journal Star descended on Whiteclay to tell the story “At the Crossroads,” a 2005 special section on the people and problems of the town and the Pine Ridge population.
This year, after intense public scrutiny, legislative debate and more than 30 stories and eight editorial opinions in the Journal Star, Whiteclay’s four liquor stores were shut down as a result of a legal opinion that the region lacked proper law enforcement to combat bootlegging and the violent crime accompanying alcohol abuse.
After a year of explaining and advocating, the Journal Star sent another team of reporters and photographers to Whiteclay and Pine Ridge to tell the story “Beyond Whiteclay.” We shared insights into bootlegging, told the stories of two women combating record suicide rates among the tribe’s youths, talked with the family of promising basketball player and scholar who was gunned down over a meth deal and how a young warrior is using the tribes history to build a brighter future.
The multimedia presentations include interviews, video, what Whiteclay is like now, how the people of Pine Ridge are getting their alcohol now and a look back at the 2005 special section to see what has changed and what has yet to.
The legal wrangling continues, liquor and drugs continue to find their way onto the reservation and into the lives of Native Americans, but the stories, photos and multimedia content we have produced have helped push the discussion one big step closer to a resolution.