EDMOND, Okla. — A filmmaker is hoping his documentary will stop a tiny Nebraska town from selling millions of cans of beer to an Indian reservation year after year.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation lies in the poorest county in America and alcoholism is causing a health crisis among its people.
The film, “The Battle For Whiteclay,” hopes to expose what’s being called Nebraska’s “dirty little secret.”
Filmmaker Mark Vasina and Indian Activist Frank LaMere spoke to a business law class Tuesday at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
They told the class the problem has been hard to fix because there’s a lot money to be made at the expense of the Oglala Sioux tribe’s alcohol addiction.
The topic brought LaMere to tears in front of the class.
He said his home state of Nebraska has blood on its hands for contributing to the alcoholism that has destroyed the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“That is shameful in Nebraska,” LaMere said. “It’s shameful in this country.”
The problem revolves around the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which has a population of only 12 people.
But the town’s four convenience stores sell more than four million cans of beer annually to people who walk or drive over from the nearby South Dakota reservation, which does not allow alcohol.
“Many millionaires are made at Whiteclay, Nebraska and we export the misery from Nebraska onto Pine Ridge,” LaMere said.
He believes Nebraska would rather keep the tax revenue than halt a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the reservation’s alcohol addiction.
“The Battle For Whiteclay” shows how alcohol affects many of the 40,000 members of the Oglala Sioux tribe; high infant mortality rates, youth suicide and human trafficking to name a few.
“What you have are families devastated,” Vasina said. “One in four children born on the Pine Ridge (reservation) suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
Vasina called Whiteclay a public health issue.
“People are murdered there. Young women are raped there but (there’s) no real attempt by Nebraska authorities to really deal with this situation. It was shocking,” he said.
UCO Assistant Professor John Maisch said a state lawsuit will likely be filed against those who manufacture, distribute and sell beer in Whiteclay for knowingly engaging in illegal sales and contributing to the epidemic.
Maisch said, “When it’s fairly obvious that most, if not all of that beer is actually being smuggled or finding its way back onto a dry reservation. Is there something that either the laws should address or we as a society should address?”
He said most of Oklahoma’s reservations allow alcohol but alcoholism is still the leading cause of preventable deaths among Native Americans.
Vasina said his documentary, “The Battle for Whiteclay,” can be viewed on YouTube.