Four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska have lost their liquor licenses.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission's ruling 3-0 on Wednesday could force an end to beer sales in Whiteclay, a town with less than 10 residents on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The four stores sell on average a combined 3.5 million cans of beer a year.
State regulators reviewed the stores' licenses on April 6th amid complaints that the town lacks adequate law enforcement to address frequent violence, drunken driving and other crimes. The hearing lasted for more than 10 hours as the commissioners listened from both store owners as well as opponents of the liquor licenses.
"This is a red-letter day in our history, we came together as neighbors we came together and took on a tough issue and after two decades we were able to get it done," said Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebego Tribe.
LaMere has been fighting for this decision for generations, "Sometimes it just takes us so long but we get there."
Liquor Control Commissioner Bob Batt said the lack of adequate law enforcement in the area swayed his decision, "They kind of convinced us of what was going on or not going on".
Smiles were also on Senator Tom Brewer's face who represents the area and grew up a mile down the road. Brewer said maybe now the village can find some new opportunities to grow, "I think now we can have businesses interested in coming because they don’t have that challenge of dealing with the issues that come from those liquor stores so it’s a good day."
A day which supporters of this decision can celebrate, hoping for a brighter future for Native Americans.
"It’s going to give them hope and I’m going to say the decision will resonate across Indian country," said LaMere.
"Finally finally we’re still standing and they’re going down, I’m so happy," said Judi Gaiashkibos, Executive Director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs.
Gaiashkibos said the area had a 'wild west' mentality and a new governor, attorney general and state senators helped shine the spotlight on this issue, "People with integrity that cared and they said no more, we are not going to push this under the rug."
The stores have operated in Whiteclay for decades, and are expected to appeal the ruling. The stores can sell beer until midnight on April 30th. This case could even go all the way to the Supreme Court.