The genocide continues

You need to read about the tiny town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. It’s a moral shithole.

Whiteclay, Nebraska. 12 people. Four liquor stores. More than 42 million cans of beer sold in the last 10 years.

I do wonder what those 12 people are like, that they can unconscionably exploit people as they do. The customers for their beer are the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the descendants of Crazy Horse and Red Shirt and Sitting Bull now live. Well then, that must be the problem — don’t blame the good capitalists providing a service, it’s all the drunkards guzzling down that beer.

But this story explains why alcoholism rages through the Lakota.

On this South Dakota reservation, where the sale and consumption of alcohol has been illegal since 1889 (aside from a few months in the 1970s), the Oglala Lakota live in the poorest of America’s 3,144 counties, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report. In 2015, 55 percent of its roughly 30,000 residents were unemployed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A decade before, the Department of the Interior put the number at 89 percent.

Here, men die on average at age 47, according to Rainey Enjady, former interim CEO of the Pine Ridge Hospital. That’s a shorter lifespan than any other country in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Its women fare better. On average, they live to 55—on par with Angola, Nigeria and Somalia.

On this sprawling reservation dotted with doublewide trailers, the infant mortality rate was three times the national average in 2007, according to Re-Member—about the same as modern day Syria, Honduras or the Gaza Strip.

It’s an American disgrace. Right here in the heart of our country, 8 hours from where I live, good people are destitute and living in despair, while merchants sell them poison.


  1. LanceR, JSG says

    And no matter how hard we try, we cannot get the legislature, the liquor control board, or the county to interfere in anyway with these “fine upstanding business people”.

    It’s hard being a liberal in Nebraska.

  2. says

    People in Pine Ridge have repeatedly protested, done blockades, tried over and over to shut down Whiteclay, but nothing. Murders happen in Whiteclay a lot too, murders which are never prosecuted, because the victims are Indian. The whole history of Whiteclay is despicable.

    Recommended reading: The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder by Stew Magnuson. The book tried very hard to present a balanced view, and is quite out of date at this point, but provides a good background and overview of the situation.

  3. says

    Caine, regarding blockades, the US government doesn’t allow them, right? They won’t let the reservation police stop US citizens from traveling freely through the reservation, or something like that? I’m sure I’ve read stories about the US government breaking up blockades north of Whiteclay in the past.

    It’s…very frustrating. I worked the summer of 2005 for a contractor of Dish Network called Satellite Link. Local networks became available that year and getting them required installing a second dish. That’s mostly what I did, going to locations east and south of Rapid City, including Pine Ridge. I met a lot of nice people there. I also met a few who were definitely struggling through the stress of poverty. Not sure where I was going with this…just reminiscing the past, I guess.

  4. trollofreason says

    Something like this makes me uneasy. Whiteclay is obviously a hub for profiting off the suffering of others, yet I keep looking to the reservations themselves, since I know that substance abuse is not a supply side problem. If Whiteclay were dissolved, and its residents even jailed for whatever reason so THEY could not set up shop elsewhere, the demand would remain. Someone else would vend, or it would spur the creation of a black market in alcohol within the reservation.

    The political cynic in me sees this as a failing tribal government desperate for something, anything, external to itself to blame for its own ongoing inability to protect and guide it’s people, that is: its reason to exist.

    Yet, the historically aware humanist in me cringes away from such assertions. Besides the arrogance, tribal governments have limited tools to assert their sovereignty, and are often surrounded by hostile local officials of the US, and too many are indifferent in the areas beyond to bring lasting scrutiny to the ongoing problems to possibly curtail that local corruption.

    All the while, it’s the people trapped in the middle who suffer.

    Perhaps I’m missing the questions that need asking.

  5. hemidactylus says

    Is it that some town provides alcohol to people living in a reservation under a prohibition regime or the regime itself?

    If alcohol was allowed on the reservation there could be revenue and regulated use. And a social acceptance and mores of usage.

    Is native susceptibility to “firewater” a racist myth?

    Could reasons for alcoholism and detrimental effects in native populations be sociocultural and not helped by prohibition? When has that ever worked? That they have to drive to another place that exists to sell them beer and back possibly DUI is bad as are the social conditions that may contribute to excessive drinking. But are blockades the answer?

    If they can’t drink on reservation in their own community of course they will get hammered and drive drunk or sneak contraband back. Am I supposed to be pissed that they choose to buy beer where such transactions are allowed? That’s relativism of the ugliest kind. When the ragers against this behavior buy beer is it “poison”? What am I missing here? It’s OK if we do it but not them?

    We should protest Walmart and Circle K where I can freely buy beer then.

  6. brett says

    I do wonder what those 12 people are like, that they can unconscionably exploit people as they do.

    “If I don’t sell them tons of beer, somebody else will just do it anyways!” Which is still a moral indictment of those who choose to do it – you don’t get excused from evil behavior simply because others will behave badly.

  7. brett says


    Shutting down the liquor stores in Whiteclay wouldn’t end alcoholism on the reservations, but it would probably help by moving it further away from the reservation and making it more expensive.

  8. brett says

    Correction: move available supplies of beer and liquor further away from the reservation.

  9. hemidactylus says


    How well did the 18th amendment and Volstead act work out in the US?

  10. numerobis says

    Alcoholism is rife in Nunavut.

    Most communities are dry. There’s no beer stores “just over the border” — it’s a couple flights away to the nearest legal booze. So the price is through the roof.

    And yet, alcoholism is rife.

    This is not to say that the dealers and pushers aren’t morally culpable, but indeed, prohibition never seems to work out.

  11. madtom1999 says

    I’m not convinced treating the Whiteclay residents as some form of second class citizens who shouldn’t be allowed near alcohol is the right long term approach. I’d prefer to see a local tax on the booze sold from this shop to be put directly into social care and education on the reserve.

  12. Ichthyic says

    How well did the 18th amendment and Volstead act work out in the US?

    quite well for the people who could then no longer afford to work around it.

    your knowledge of history is simplistic at best.

    I suggest actually taking classes instead of relying on magazine articles?

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Alcoholism is not the root problem. It is a symptom of a larger issue. Address the poverty and hopelessness within the res and the alcolism will gradually evaporate.
    Shit, I know it’s easy to say, much harder to accomplish, very much.
    The 12 of Whiteclay aren’t causing the problem, they are exploiting it. Don’t blame them, help Pine Ridge.

  14. Bill Buckner says

    quite well for the people who could then no longer afford to work around it.

    Except for the subset of those poor who died from poisoned hooch and moonshine. It did not work out well for them.

  15. dhabecker says

    Until something drastically happens like move all the natives to a place where they have work, or pay them all a livable wage for doing nothing, or build a Tesla plant on the res. or….,not!

    Otherwise the service the people at Whiteclay provide is akin to either Dr. Kevorkian or Mother Teresa.

    Cruel world.

  16. The Mellow Monkey says

    OP: “There is this complex, societal problem going on within a marginalized community, which these assholes are profiting off of. Look at these assholes. What a bunch of assholes.”

    “Okay, but have you considered embracing racism?”
    “If these assholes weren’t making money off of this problem, OTHER assholes would, so they’re not morally culpable!”
    “Getting rid of the assholes won’t get rid of the societal problem, therefore we should not complain about the assholes at all.”

    It’s amazing how much reading comprehension suffers when certain topics come up.

  17. Bernard Bumner says

    Restricting the supply is not enough, and possibly a more immediate death sentence for some. I doubt that realistically the resources would even be made available to ensure people didn’t die from DTs, let alone to meaningfully change the prospects for the community. It is unlikely to happen when it is so easily and willfully ignored by those with power.

    There clearly needs to be a world of change. There needs to be the will to support change over decades until the community can stand on its own. But that probably requires honesty, generosity, and compassion, and other uncommon qualities. It needs admissions of wrongdoing, efforts towards restitution and reparation, and the acknowledgement of ancient and ongoing racism and harm.

  18. The Mellow Monkey says

    Bernard Bumner:

    It needs admissions of wrongdoing, efforts towards restitution and reparation, and the acknowledgement of ancient and ongoing racism and harm.

    Yeah, it does. With this particular problem, it’s not just a matter of helping individuals in need. There are generational traumas and disadvantages that have to be addressed. White settler society in this country is very focused on individual choice, as though this occurs in a vacuum, and it obscures so much of what’s actually going on.

    It is a slow genocide. I’ve had (unsurprisingly white) friends ask why reservations still continue to exist, and wouldn’t everyone be better off if they were done away with and the people assimilated? But forced assimilation has been tried before, with horrific results. The hardships of today are in part the result of attempts at forced assimilation, as family structures and cultural methods of conflict resolution were torn apart. Tribal governments are limited in what they can do to keep alcohol out if that’s what they choose, but they also have a host of other difficulties facing them, along with a lot of the community political drama that’s just par for the course.

    We know the causes of addiction, but even if an individual’s poverty and despair can be addressed, the generational trauma is still there and the injury to the culture remains. Abuse still exists, horrifyingly high rates of sexual violence against Indian women still exist, racism still exists. The least that can be asked is that outsiders not purposefully seek out profit from all of this.

  19. Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says

    I’ve been to Pine Ridge and to White Clay, on two recent occasions (other than drive through). One was to see Bernie Sanders speak at the Pine Ridge High School!–the other, to attend a meeting with various law enforcement and legal entities on recent Mexican drug cartel murders on Pine Ridge and what that might mean to those trying to vote on Pine Ridge, last November.

    Whiteclay is not on Rez land, but connects to it, and unless you’re familiar with the area, you’d be hard pressed to know where Pine Ridge stopped and Whiteclay started. Thing is, supply of alcohol, without Whiteclay, alcohol is much riskier (you have to drive a good distance),and much more difficult to obtain. Closing down the local supply would help keep some folks sober.

    Lots of meth, lots of alcohol, lots of pot, virtually non-existent employment, with distance, societal, racist issues affecting employment. Many problems–and trying to solve one without working on the others simultaneously is like trying to carry water in a sieve.

  20. wzrd1 says

    As was mentioned previously, eliminating the supply (or effectively eliminating it).
    A big one, as a former SF medic, first and foremost is, “Do no (additional) harm”. That means, on occasion, one selects for moderating a lesser harm to continue, while incrementally addressing it, while treating for the greater and more dire harm.
    Elimination of alcohol would result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens, aka, “the DT’s”. If you think that’s simply tremors, you’re wrong as humanly possible. Hallucinations, CNS hyperstimulation and depression of autonomic control, quite simply, it’d be horrifically lethal to a significant number of alcoholics.
    Now, add in that, plus the methamphetamine abuse, which also can trigger paranoid delusions, tremors, psychotic episodes, yeah, life just got epidemically problematic to a health system that’s already in crisis.
    It’s doing that nation a world of good as well.
    If one is aware of those major obstacles and still champions for prohibition, well, we know who the eugenicists are.
    Social and economic issues are indeed at the heart of the addictions problem and some of the familial violence problems as well.

    I honestly can’t suggest a realistic solution, as I don’t know what remaining culture is present, which can strengthen or weaken relief efforts or worse, create a further destructive interference that is mutual.
    If I were Emperor, I’d create a system where a new train station would have to go to the heart of the reservation, just to deliver scholarships to social worker training, psychiatry training, sociology graduate school training, economic and business school training and well, anything else that one and all think would be helpful, then toss in the humanities for giggles. At least then, I’d be able to add another culture to the humanities curriculum.
    Plus a massive incentive for GED training and graduation.
    Then, let the locals figure out what would work for them.

    What I’d never do is propose a solution without internal guidance and without a pathway for an internally guided and both internally and externally supported solution.
    Alas, we’ll not see that from Washington, D.C., where genocide is still considered, silently, the solution. Some don’t want the US to lose our leading expertise, that of ethnic cleansing. Bad for Serbia to do, as they tried to upstage the US.
    Something I mentioned during the ramp-up for the US-UN efforts in Bosnia.

    But, one addiction is present, nearly universally throughout the US. An addiction to a quick fix. There are no quick fixes, only half-assed solutions. Half-assed solutions only turn around and bite you later on.
    Real solutions to major social and economic problems take lifetimes to craft and support.
    Only the willing need apply.

    Now, how does one address the socio-economic disaster, which was generations in creating and sustaining, in the most unsustainable way imaginable, without any assistance whatsoever from surrounding, state or federal government?
    Don’t bother to say that it’s impossible. As long as a few within the res are willing, the leadership is willing and we’re willing, it’s only a matter of effort and creative thought. Some of the effort would be financial and I’ll gladly chip in what little we can spare.
    I think that the first step is educationally based, geared toward crafting a local pathway out of poverty, sustaining and emphasizing culture, healing the community and maintaining both health and education. Then, other steps will be found by the ones already doing the day to day footwork.
    I could be wrong though.
    What I do know is two things.
    1: Knee jerk reactions lead to half-assed solutions that never truly work.
    2: Calling it audible from thousands of miles away don’t work. At all. What does work is for those assisting from afar asking those on the ground, “What do you need?”, then getting out of the way.

  21. trollofreason says

    Sorry if I caused a crack to open for racism in the comments. It wasn’t my intention. I tend to look at things from an institutional perspective, and that can unfortunately be seized upon.

    Nice to see things get back on track and at least my quest for questions to start the mental grist mills was fulfilled.

  22. says

    Something like this makes me uneasy. Whiteclay is obviously a hub for profiting off the suffering of others, yet I keep looking to the reservations themselves, since I know that substance abuse is not a supply side problem.

    Yeah, have to agree with this. Its real easy to just blame society for some of this, and not look at what the other side is doing. I mean, you might get a similar argument about certain neighborhoods, with certain racial makeups, but.. usually, in those cases, the people arguing that it is somewhat, or entirely, the fault of the people in the neighborhood are doing so to draw attention away from their own refusal to do anything to help. I don’t think, however, that this is always the case with reservations.

    Why? Well, I grew up in Bishop, CA, and both my brother and father where often among those paid to go in and “fix” things for some of the people on the local reservation lands. In the case of Bishop, there isn’t some river, or land, or some clear demarcation between American Indian land and everyone else. I literally lived *across the street* from part of the reservation. As in, I could have walked out the front door, across the pavement, and been standing on their land. And, here the thing is. There where something like four groups among them, the elders, the drunks, the ‘who cares’ crowd and the successful ones. The elders mostly tried not to cause too many problems, and, in fact, back in the late 70s put down an attempt by some of their own tribe to, “Rise up and get back at the white man!”, that some of the younger generation had got into their heads, over something they didn’t like, that the government said to them (it was probably something like not getting as many freebies, or who knows). The other two groups, sadly, seemed to make up the majority tended to fall into the who cares, and probably still does, or the drunk group. These individuals on an almost yearly basis, for all of them had people, paid by the government, come in and replace siding, broken windows, etc., which, in the case of the drunks, they probably threw things through themselves. They didn’t give a damn about keeping up anything they had, since all they felt they had to do was beg for a replacement, and it would be given. And.. the drunks, got arrested on almost a weekly basis, for some stupid thing that they did, some of it violent, and usually against each other. The successful ones.. either didn’t live on the reservation, since they couldn’t stand the attitudes either, or lived on the sections that actually met up with the rest of the world, since they actually, mostly, got along with their neighbors. But, even then, there where a few that would go out, get drunk, drive like idiots, then get pissed off when the “white” Sheriff showed up to gripe at them about the people they put in danger, or the state of the horses they kept, or some other infraction they had committed, and which they had not “tribal law” protection against.

    It was very clear that, if the tribe had bloody wanted to fix their problems, they could have, but it would have required that the tribal leaders took steps to force the issue. Instead, other than cases, like when they stepped in to quell an outright attack on the rest of the town (and probably then only because it was pointed out that the town was better armed), they didn’t do jack all to try to fix anything. Heck, half of the leaders where the ones who would wait until their own house was nearly unlivable, then insist that the government either give them a new house, or fix all the problems, because *they* where not going to do so themselves.

    One of the ones, on the other side of my own street, was even a high school teacher – and he hated his own tribe, in many ways, for their insistence in either not giving a damn, and just living off of government assistance, or using the money they should have spent to keep their own homes in good condition to get drunk instead. This was a choice they where making “as a tribe”, not some attempt by the town, or even the government, to further hurt them. My brother, who I admit can be a seriously short sighted ass, when it comes to people that annoy him, never the less suggested one possible cause – their tribal traditions where, before being forced to settle, one of nomadic behavior, and “use until its useless, then throw it away.”, when it came to anything semi-permanent, or they didn’t carry with them, and, his hypothesis is that they have simply refused, at least partly out of spite, to even adapt from that. Maybe this has changed, since then. They now have some people, like that high school teacher, who can show them that they are better off if they do change. But… maybe they are still the same, because their generational hate of what happened has given them the excuse to keep living as though they are nomads, and choose to just abandon, or demand someone else, besides them, replace, anything they have that falls apart. The ones that can’t see a way to change and too obsessed with the unfairness of the situation to just break windows, and gloat at the fact that someone else has to fix them for them, do what too many people, of any ethnic background to – drink, to feel, temporarily, better.

    But, the point being.. this isn’t something that would solve itself if the town went dry. Its not the town, or anyone else making them do this, in Bishop, its a generational refusal to “be” something different than what is no longer possible to return to, and lashing out because of it. And, its the tribe itself that has to drive the changes needed to stop it, just as others have. So… is something similar going on with Whiteclay? Maybe.. but I can only speak to what I observed with the tribe I grew up, literally, next to.

  23. hemidactylus says

    Upon further reflection I should have been far more critical of Whiteclay. I was in a foul mood when I posted my screed and PZ’s comparison of beer to poison may have set me off a bit, but digging into PZ’s link I found this:

    “It’s easy to get drunk on a few bucks in Whiteclay, where beer is cheaper than water. Most of the Lakota drink big cans of “high gravity” malt liquors, such as Hurricane and Camo Black Ice. For about $1.50, each 24-ounce can delivers the equivalent of a six pack of beer or four shots of whiskey.”

    I have disdain for the high octanes and malt liquors and given that “poison” rings truer.

    I was thinking more in terms of stereotypes of Native Americans and their alleged constitutional intolerance of alcohol aka “firewater myth”.

    Which I first started pondering after this:

    I agree with those here who say the problems are socioeconomic. Yet access to beer and especially high octanes is also a major part of the problem especially considering the health impacts on the reservation. But I still dislike prohibition. That’s a holdover from my libertarian days. I also oppose the drug war (see mass incarceration and things such as Operation Pipeline).

    Quoting the Interim Police Chief:

    “Mesteth said his department struggles to keep up with the Whiteclay problems. He’d like more officers. In fact, he has the money to hire another 18. Applications are scarce, however, and the department has a high turnover rate because it’s a burnout job.

    He said there needs to be a solution to the deluge of Whiteclay-related calls, such as shutting down the town’s beer stores or legalizing alcohol on the reservation.”

  24. DanDare says

    Remove the prohibition. Legislate that only locals can own and operate liquor stores. Set up a brewery and distillery and legislate that only locals can own it or work in it. Help the locals build a world class alcohol export business and find ways to export their culture with it. Use the funds to drive a local economy and build schools. Train locals up to govern it all themselves and set their own direction.

  25. DanDare says

    Oh and treat the alcoholism as a health and societal issue and not moral one. .

  26. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Oh and treat the alcoholism as a health and societal issue and not moral one. .


  27. wzrd1 says

    Oh and treat the alcoholism as a health and societal issue and not moral one.

    Indeed! In every area, be it a reservation or an impoverished inner city neighborhood, drug and alcohol abuse is rampant.
    All share one theme in common, inescapable poverty, low to no employment and that causes hopelessness.

    Unfortunately, far too many temporarily embarrassed millionaires cluck their tongue, denigrate those who are, in reality, one economic downturn or natural disaster away from being their peers.