Task Force says improvements still needed in Whiteclay, budget shortfall may cause issues

Whiteclay liquor stores, the day after they closed in May 2017 (NTV News)

A legislative task force says there's a public health crisis in Whiteclay and are looking to make improvements.

The small northeastern village was once plagued by alcoholism and sold over 3.5 million cans of beer.

Most of the beer went to the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The four beer stores are without liquor licenses after a vote in April by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.

Despite that, a report released Wednesday by the Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force said the crisis would likely continue.

The task force says alcoholism is as high as 80 percent and the infant mortality rate is three times the national average.

Co-chair of the task force, Senator Tom Brewer says the number of ambulance calls are down by 100 compared to last year.

"Now the problem is that, you know, there's still a chemical dependency problem on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and there's bootlegging going on and there's still issues," said Senator Brewer.

Brewer said some people are driving to other towns in South Dakota and Nebraska to buy booze, but it's not nearly as many as purchased alcohol in Whiteclay.

The task force called for improvements for next year that include finding land for a detox center, and a memorial for Whiteclay.

Brewer says with a state budget shortfall the treatment center may be unlikely.

"About the best we can do in Whiteclay because of very, very limited facilities there would be to maybe have a periodic opportunity to have folks visit some type of portable unit there, but some of that's probably going to be an agreement between the state of South Dakota and the state of Nebraska," said Brewer.

The idea for the memorial came about from Frank LaMere, Former Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer and others who "wanted to ensure that no one forget the decades of devastation caused by alcohol sales in Whiteclay."

There’s also a call for construction of a permanent cellphone tower in the area to replace one that was vandalized then destroyed by a windstorm.

Brewer says the tower could be in the foreseeable future.

Overall, he says closing the beer stores has led to improvements.

"It's a completely different atmosphere now. You don't have the people laying around intoxicated. You don't have the trash. You don't have the issues that haunted both Whiteclay and Pine Ridge,” Brewer said.

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