December 17, 2008

Nebraska's "dirty little secret"

One Man's Fight Against Alcohol DealersJust south of Pine Ridge, S.D., is a place that Frank LaMere calls Nebraska's "dirty little secret."

It's a place that has made national headlines for selling 11,000 cans of beer daily, mainly to the residents within walking distance on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It's a place that has only 14 residents but boasts four liquor stores. It's also a place that LaMere plans to bring up with President-elect Barack Obama. LeMere is an executive member of the Democratic National Committee.

"When I'm sitting across from the president of the United States, don't you think that I'm gonna bring up Whiteclay?" he said here at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Film director Mark Vasina, Winnebago, unveiled his documentary, "The Battle for Whiteclay," Nov. 15 to an audience of about 20 people at the university. The movie explores LaMere's efforts to engage Nebraskans in the issue he said "has become very much an ‘out of sight, out of mind' situation."
And a mini-review:By filming marches and demonstrations, strategically making his point without formal interviews, Vasina puts viewers in the action. Rather than interview, he uses footage from organized marches, LaMere's own testimonies, snippets of state congressional hearings and local county board meetings. Especially insightful testimonies come from representatives of the grocers association and the National Beverage Association. A lot of effort and resources seem to have gone into keeping Whiteclay so opportunely located.

In one march from Pine Ridge to Whiteclay, nine Native people, including LaMere, were arrested for crossing a line that the Nebraska State Highway Patrol swat team told them not to cross. They were loaded onto a bus and taken to jail. Just as powerful is a moment in the movie following the testimony of several people who live in Sheridan County, Neb. The apathy and underlying racism are devastating.

Keeping the liquor stores in Whiteclay, rather than closing them down and making it more difficult for people in Pine Ridge to get the alcohol that is illegal on their reservation, they enjoy the security of knowing that the problem of alcoholism, violence and traffic of Native people is far from their homes. Maintaining convenient access to alcohol in Whiteclay—in a corner of Sheridan County far from the homes of most residents—is masked under the guise of concern for lawful distribution and the rights of the store owners.

While I tire of seeing movies that beat to death the same woes in Indian Country, this movie went a step beyond that. It showed someone doing something about it. And that someone wasn't just a good-hearted outsider. It was a Native person, albeit one from a different state.

In this movie, LaMere's actions inspire.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Deeply routed in the prejudice and separatism/non-separatism of the area the issue at hand is larger than just the number of liquor stores within walking distance of the Rez. I suspect will not end with the closing/moving of these places, but bringing to light the need to change the situation is a start. After reading this I thought - if they can't beat them, join them - open AA halls next to the stores as a distraction from entering, place armies of volunteers offering help and discouraging patronage, create surrounding opportunities in the environment that will discourage and possible decrease the need for the Native community to medicate. Encourage the people to change the way they have been taught to live by offering them alternative views/options for living. This change would need to come from within and without both communities, which have lived with each other for longer than most care to consider. Doing this will mean examining the area’s laws and understanding/expectations of perimeters within the community and their mutual responsibility to each other as well as the Rez’ need to review and rebuild its own infrastructure so that living there is either a haven that encourages healthy living or a launching pad that builds a foundation of strength for its people. But it all starts with self examination and the taking on of our individual responsibility in the situation doesn't it?