Whiteclay, Nebraska: The Town That Sells 3.5 Million Cans Of Beer Every Year

The state liquor board of Nebraska voted to revoke the liquor licenses of four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska. The hearing and vote were taken in an office in the state capital building. The vote of the board was unanimous, 3-0, to ban the sale of alcohol. An attorney for the four liquor stores in the city, Andy Snyder, said the vote was politically motivated and vowed to make an appeal. The decision effectively shuts down the sale of alcohol throughout the town and cuts off the supply of alcohol to the nearby Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation.

The tiny, unincorporated town of 10 residents sells 3.5 million cans of beer every year, and this has earned the city the nickname "skid row of the plains." The small town, per capita, sells more beer than any other city in the United States.

men drinking in public in whiteclay nebraska
[Image by William Lauer/AP Images]

The primary customers for the beer are from the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation is prohibited from selling alcohol, and the residents travel to nearby Whiteclay for their supply.

In 2016, the tribal council decided not to allow a vote to allow alcohol on the reservation. Percy White Plume, a resident of the reservation, said of the vote, "A lot of people don't want it. If you allow liquor sales, all the young people will say it must be OK. We'll have even more alcohol-related deaths, beatings, and rapes that go along with it."

The liquor board cited the lack of law enforcement and emergency care to deal with the criminal and health problems that accompany alcohol use. This was in direct contrast to the Sheridan County officials who, earlier in the year, approved the licenses. The chairman of the state liquor board, Bob Batt, said, "We were appalled by some of the attitudes of Sheridan County officials that they don't have a problem there. We found that to be bogus."

He cited over 150 times that ambulances were dispatched from the reservation to the town to deal with alcohol-related problems. He also said there are endless reports of public intoxication, urinating in public, and sexual assaults of young girls.

The decision is the culmination of years of criticism against the town for the amount of alcohol it sold to residents of the reservation. Pine Ridge has approximately 19,000 residents, and the vast majority are Native-Americans. A survey of criminal activity on the reservation showed that 99 percent of all crime involved alcohol. Twenty-five percent of all children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

homeless sleeping on door step in whiteclay, nebraska
[Image by Carson Walker/AP Images]

Batt called for more help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Trump administration. He wondered why the U.S. was so quick to fix problems in other countries when impoverished people are living on the reservation.

"If we can fix countries all over the world, we need to fix the poorest county in the United States, These are human beings. They are really suffering."
John Maisch, an attorney who made a documentary about the Whiteclay beer stores, welcomed the decision. He said, "A dark cloud has been lifted over the State of Nebraska." His film, "Sober Indian Dangerous Indian," captured the struggles of four alcoholics living in Whiteclay, Nebraska.

Snyder, the attorney for the liquor stores, said he would file an appeal. The appeal automatically suspends the judgment of the board until the appeal is heard. That could take several months. This is not the first time a ban was approved. About ten years ago, the board revoked the license of one of the stores, but it was ultimately overturned in court.

Snyder argued that closing down the liquor stores won't stop the alcohol problems. He said members of the reservation would turn to bootleggers or other illegal sources for alcohol. He also pointed out that members could also drive to other towns, which are farther away, increasing the chances of drunk driving. He also said the businesses were all conducting legal activity. He sided with Sheridan County officials and said the country sheriff and Nebraska State Police have an adequate presence in the town.

Bob Batt acknowledged that revoking the licenses wouldn't solve the rampant alcoholism, but he said the ban was a good start towards an immediate solution. The licenses for the four stores expire on April 30.

[Featured Image by Nati Harnik/AP Images]