WHITECLAY, Neb. | The sky was a washed-out gray on Wednesday morning as the news began to trickle in: no more beer sales in Whiteclay.
The regular patrons of the town’s four beer sellers drifted beneath awnings and on the rutted dirt shoulders of Neb. Highway 87, some wrapped in sleeping bags, others with chilled cans of beer concealed in the sleeves of their hoodies.
“I don’t know why they want to take it away,” Alvin Hard Heart said, shaking his head. “White people are the people who introduced us to alcohol in the first place.”
Grinning, Hard Heart pointed to his cracked lip and the brown stains on his shirt. He’d had too much to drink the day before, he said, and taken a hard fall.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a difference,” he said of the commission’s decision. “It’s probably going to make things worse.”
Beer will still be sold illegally by bootleggers on the reservation, Hard Heart said, and if he can’t get it that way, he will simply go to the next closest place where he can.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted 3-0 to deny licenses to all four beer stores in Whiteclay, an unprecedented move that sets the stage for a major court battle.
“This is not a place that can exist any longer,” commission Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha said after the vote. “This is not a place that can exist as a purveyor of alcohol at all.”
Cheers erupted from those who packed a tiny hearing room at the State Office Building in Lincoln for the decision. Former Oglala Lakota President Bryan Brewer and longtime activist Frank LaMere of Winnebago, both in tears, embraced