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Old 06-29-2006, 11:01 AM   #6
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Beer blockade goes bust
By Jomay Steen, Rapid City Journal Staff;
and Carson Walker, The Associated Press
29 June 2006

WHITECLAY, Neb. — It was nearly a typical day in Whiteclay, Neb., as a planned beer blockade fizzled.

Instead, blockade organizers and Oglala Sioux Tribe officials agreed to try to find a way to stop the flow of beer onto Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has banned alcohol for many years.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins stood with eight of his deputies in Whiteclay. The extra manpower had been brought into the small town because officials had believed a large demonstration was taking place. About a dozen people arrived midday for the rally and blockade.

“We figured there would be large crowds because of news articles in the papers, but it was almost a normal day in Whiteclay,” Robbins said.

After arguing on a dusty road that serves as the Nebraska-South Dakota boundary, organizers of a proposed blockade and Oglala Sioux Tribe acting police chief James Twiss agreed to try to find ways to stop the flow of beer from Whiteclay to the reservation border north of town.

The agreement halted a planned two-month blockade aimed at preventing tribal members and others from bringing packaged beer bought at four Whiteclay stores onto the reservation. Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who planned the blockade and Twiss said they would try to meet — possibly as early as today.

Mark Vasina of Nebraskans for Peace, an activist group that has tried to end alcohol sales in the border town, said the day did not end like he expected it would but that he was pleased with the outcome.

“I think this is a success because we got a commitment from (Twiss) to deal with the problems of illegal alcohol sales,” Vasina said.

Robbins said it was almost a normal day, except for the dozens of law enforcement officers from Nebraska Highway Patrol, Sheridan County in Nebraska, Shannon County in South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, who patrolled the Nebraska-South Dakota boundary beginning about 8 a.m.

“We were making sure that we were here to protect the public and see that no laws were broke,” Robbins said.

Although organizers and police went home buoyed by the day’s events, two Whiteclay grocers suffered a bad day for business.

VJ’s Market and Whiteclay Grocery officials said they took as much as a $5,000 dip in sales when Pine Ridge shoppers opted to avoid the hassle at the proposed march and blockade. Two women stood at cash registers at Whiteclay Grocery, waiting for customers who didn’t come.

“This is what happens when there’s a blockade: No one comes to buy groceries,” a clerk said, looking at the empty aisles.

V.J.’s Market owner, Victor Clarke, agreed.

“And we don’t even sell alcohol,” Clarke said.

Clarke employs eight people from Pine Ridge to manage and work at his store. He contributes to the Pine Ridge community and is a member of its chamber of commerce, but his business has been hurt by the recent marches as well as the four stores that sell beer and malt beverages.

“It kills our business, but what aggravates me is the intimidation factor that my customers have to go through when they come to my store,” he said.

Clarke said that there are probably 500 alcohol outlets within five miles of the entire reservation. No one is looking at those border towns that frame the dry reservation, he said. Shutting down Whiteclay wouldn’t stop the flow of alcohol onto the reservation, he said.

“Everyone — regardless of race, religion, color or creed — has a right to make their own choices in regards to their own life and what they do. It’s not up to the tribe, the Nebraskans for Peace or the police to make those choices,” Clarke said.

At the Nebraska-South Dakota border, Twiss told blockade organizer Duane Martin Sr. of the Strong Heart Civil Rights Movement that his officers could not allow the blockade because of safety concerns if a motorist chose not to stop.

Twiss said it was not clear whether the blockade would violate the constitutional rights of people against illegal searches and seizures. “A person’s vehicle is their property,” Twiss told Martin.

Allowing the blockade would invite liability issues, Twiss said. “I’ve just got to make sure that we’re covered legally,” he said. “If someone decides not to stop, we’re going to be responsible.”

“Whose side are you guys on?” Martin asked Twiss.

“Don’t try to make me be the bad guy,” Twiss said.

Martin, who said he took on the blockade issue at the request of his people, kept pleading his case with Twiss, who grew up on the reservation and acknowledged that he drank illegally in Whiteclay as a teenager.

For years, the police department has not done enough to go after bootleggers who buy large quantities of beer in Whiteclay and then distribute it on the reservation, Twiss said. He said his department doesn’t have the money or manpower to do more.

He vowed to work with Martin and others to find some way to ease the problem.

The two talked at the state boundary with the Shannon County, S.D., sign only a few feet away.

At least a dozen law enforcement vehicles were parked nearby. Tribal officers lined the gravel road, and just to the south, Nebraska State Patrol and Sheridan County officers stood by on the state highway going into Whiteclay.

A tribal police officer gave cold water and sports drinks to the other officers, who were in the hot sun.

It appeared that fewer than a dozen people showed up to support the blockade had it been carried out. More than a dozen reporters and photographers also were on hand.

Blockade supporters had said they didn’t plan to arrest anyone but would confiscate any beer bought in Whiteclay.

The plan was to set up checkpoints inside the reservation. Volunteers in Whiteclay planned to use radios to tell checkpoint workers which vehicles should be stopped and searched for beer.

Robbins said he doubted the blockade’s legality, because even if alcohol is banned on the reservation, it is still illegal to take it from somebody else. And anyone in Whiteclay radioing the description of vehicles to people at a blockade would be considered aiding and abetting a theft, Robbins said.

“It’s still against the law to take anything from anybody,” he said.

Also at the scene was Indian activist and actor Russell Means, who pulled his pickup and trailer out from the road on the state line and stopped it across the road into the reservation, indicating that it had stalled.

After an officer approached Means’ pickup, there was some doubt it had mechanical problems.

“I’m not starting anything. I’ve got trouble here,” Means told a reporter. “I think it’s overheated.”

Within a few minutes, someone brought jumper cables, and Means’ pickup started. He then drove away.

"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)
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