Until recently, Whiteclay, Nebraska had the highest per capita alcohol sales in the U.S. The village has only 10 residents. Yet its four beer-selling stores sold about 4,500,000 cans per year. That’s over 1,200 12-ounce cans per resident per day. Beer sales equaled over a quarter million dollars per resident per year. And some years much more beer was sold.
Prohibition Promotes Alcohol Sales
This income and profit was made possible by the self-imposed alcohol prohibition at the large Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It’s located about two miles away, just over the border in North Dakota. Virtually all the beer was sold to residents of the reservation. It has a population of about 30,000 people. The only other significant source of potential customers is a two-hour drive away.
About two/thirds of the reservations in the country have voted to permit alcohol sales within their borders. In August of 2013, tribal members voted in favor of overturning the ban on selling alcohol. The vote was 1,843 in favor and 1,678 against. But the vote wasn’t binding. The ultimate decision was made by the tribal council. It has not agreed to the measure.
Some council members argue that the reservation should remain under prohibition. They say that alcohol is not part of true or traditional Native American culture. That the tribe should ‘keep its hands clean’ of alcohol money. And that increased law enforcement would solve the problem.
Other tribal members argue that there would be benefits if sales were legalized. The tribe would have control over when and where alcohol were sold. It would have control over to whom it was sold. Thus it could prevent sales to those under a certain age or to those who were intoxicated. It could reduce alcohol-related traffic crashes. That’s because sales would occur closer to home.
They argue that the tribe could obtain all the profits from alcohol sales. It could also keep much of the tax money. These monies could be used to fund alcohol abuse programs. They could also be used to fund recreational and other programs to benefit tribal members.
In 2017, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted to deny license renewals to the four liquor stores in Whiteclay. Thus, they were no longer able to sell beer after April 30 of that year.
Resources on Whiteclay
Garrigan, M. Liquor Debate Goes to Core of Town’s Ties to Reservation, Rapid City Journal, July 17, 2010.
Grant, S. Tribe Suing Beer Companies for Alcohol Problems, Boston Globe, Feb 9, 2012.
Hammel, P. Tribe’s Liquor Tax May Restart Old Boundary Dispute, Omaha World-Herald, Dec 28, 2006.
Hendee, D. and Hammel, P. Whiteclay Beer Proposal Divides Indian Leaders, Omaha World-Herald, Oct 6, 1999.
Howell, R. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Dry, Alcohol Comes in Anyway, Native American Times, July 5, 2010.
Schilling, V. Pine Ridge Vote to Sell Alcohol Could Kill Whiteclay, Bring Huge Revenue to Tribe. Indian Country Today, Aug 16, 2013.
Walker, C. Pine Ridge Blockade Planned to Nab Bootleggers, Rapid City Journal, May 13, 2007
Williams, T. At Tribe’s Door, a Hub of Beer and Heartache, New York Times, March 6, 2012.