Legislature Actually Debates Whiteclay Issue
LB 1002, which appropriated $25,000 for “economic development, health care, and law enforcement needs” in the Whiteclay area, passed the Legislature with 47 of 49 possible votes the last week of the session. (Mark Christensen of Imperial voted against it; Tony Fulton of Lincoln, running for State Treasurer this year, was present but did not vote.) The bill also funded a grant administrator for the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs to leverage the state’s $25,000 with private dollars. The original bill called for $250,000, but this was reduced by the Judiciary Committee to $100,000 before advancing it, and was further reduced during floor debate.
The impact of LB 1002 itself is modest. Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services estimates a minimum annual expenditure of $600,000 to operate an alcohol treatment center. Nevertheless, the bill marks a significant milestone in the battle for Whiteclay. It generated over three hours of floor debate, with many senators expressing support while acknowledging that LB 1002 can only be viewed as a beginning.
Thanks deservedly go to Sen. Leroy Louden of Ellsworth, who introduced the bill, and the bill’s four co-sponsors. Special thanks must go to co-sponsor Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilbur, who added his name to this bill after his own similar bill (LB 1005) was held in committee. As chair of the General Affairs Committee, Sen. Karpisek held two important hearings on Whiteclay last year prior to the 2010 Legislative Session. LB 1002 and LB 1005 emerged from the outpouring of concern over Whiteclay from Nebraska constituents and representatives of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from Pine Ridge.
However, we should be clear about what this bill does not do. Even if fully funded at the original $250,000, it does not begin to redress the economic and social harm caused by the failure of Nebraska authorities to provide a safe and lawful environment in Whiteclay. This failure, which stems from a lack of political will to tackle liquor law violations and other illegal acts by the Whiteclay beer merchants, is something that many in our state are coming to recognize. Indeed, the Legislature must someday soon acknowledge its historical part in contributing to the shameful condition of Whiteclay.
Stew Magnuson, author of The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns (2008, Texas Tech University Press), recounts a telling example of the State of Nebraska’s culpability in this border town. In the 1950s, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission licensed two liquor outlets in Whiteclay. This was followed by a decade of turmoil and tragedy in that unincorporated village. Responding to official concerns, in the 1960s the Nebraska Legislature appropriated funds for a state sheriff to be stationed in Whiteclay. The Liquor Commission, perhaps imagining a new era of stability and order in Whiteclay, then increased the number of licenses from two to four. But a subsequent budget crisis led state senators to eliminate the sheriff’s position in the early 1970s, leaving Whiteclay in worse condition than before. The raging turmoil and tragedy in Whiteclay resumed, largely ignored by the Legislature these many years until the 2010 session.