The decision by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to require the four beer stores in Whiteclay to reapply for their liquor licenses may be overdue, but it’s definitely welcome.
It’s a travesty that the four stores in the remote village with a population of 12 have been allowed to sell the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer year after year while their license was renewed automatically.
Most of the alcohol is sold to residents of the legally dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation two miles away across the border in South Dakota. Alcoholism, crime, poverty and fetal alcohol syndrome are rampant.
For years officials have been throwing up their hands and saying there was nothing that could be done.
The 3-0 vote by the commission to require a “long-form" application is the first real change in the official status quo in years. Beer store owners will be required to show that their applications meet the requirements of state law.
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Significantly, one of those requirements is the presence of adequate law enforcement.
Tragically, it may have taken the death of Sherry Wounded Foot to put the law enforcement issue at the top of agenda for local and state officials. Wounded Foot was found behind the Lakota HOPE Ministry building in Whiteclay. The 50-year-old mother of three died 12 days later at Pine Ridge Hospital. An autopsy showed she died of blunt trauma to the head. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.
The death is the latest in a list of unsolved deaths in the vicinity of Whiteclay, One of those deaths was Sanford Wounded Foot, brother to Sherry Wounded Foot.
Sheridan County Commissioner Jack Anderson told a legislative committee in October that “we absolutely do not” have enough resources for adequate policing in Whiteclay.
If Sheridan County sends the same message to the Liquor Control Commission, that could provide the basis to deny renewal of the licenses. Activists intend to make the case. Shutting down the beer stores in Whiteclay won’t make the alcohol problems at the Pine Ridge Reservation vanish, but it would be a move in the right direction.