On Aug, 17, Sherry Wounded Foot died, nearly two weeks after she was found beaten and unconscious behind a building in Whiteclay, the tiny northwest Nebraska town, population 12, where four beer stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer last year -- nearly all of it to residents of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned, but alcohol-related problems run rampant.
Wounded Foot’s death, which is under investigation, is the fifth mysterious death in the unincorporated village and the third death authorities agree was caused by violence.
Wounded Foot’s death prompted Native activist Frank LaMere and documentary filmmaker John Maisch last week to call on the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to shut down the stores -- an ongoing effort that is repeatedly rebuffed by the commission citing a lack of evidence that the beer stores had committed any violations that would allow their licenses to be revoked.
The law, however, does allow license holders to be prosecuted if alcohol is found to be illegally consumed on adjacent properties, which regularly occurs in Whiteclay and likely took place with Wounded Foot.
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A state Whiteclay task force established by Gov. Pete Ricketts earlier this month released six recommendations for addressing the village’s problems, including full-time law enforcement in the area, getting rid of abandoned buildings, creating a detoxification and treatment center and seeking authority to enact ordinances aimed at panhandling, vagrancy and other problems.
But none of those recommendations directly addresses the true Whiteclay issue -- the sale of 147,000 cases of beer by the four stores last year.
The only way to address that problem is to shut down the stores, period. Wounded Foot’s murder should trigger the commission to revoke the licenses. That action will be challenged in court. But it needs to be taken, starting the process that, hopefully, will end beer sales in Whiteclay.
Shutting down the stores won’t end the alcohol problems on Pine Ridge. But it would remove the source of much of the alcohol that makes it onto the reservation while removing a blight on Nebraska.