“All has changed and many have left, but I am still here,” said Frank LaMere on March 31 as he and many others gathered at Lancaster County Courthouse in a rally against the alcohol sales in Whiteclay, NE. Whiteclay is an unincorporated town on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota with only 12 official residents, yet over 42 millions cans of beer have been sold there within the last decade. Who are the target of these sales you may ask? The Oglala Lakota Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge Reservations just miles away. Even though alcohol is prohibited on the reservation itself, that does not stop the indigenous people living nearby from making the journey to Whiteclay to purchase it. This only fabricates alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome to play a disastrous role amongst families living in Pine Ridge.
Vanessa Daves was live tweeting about the rally. She tweeted, “The national average for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – 0.2 percent. On Pine Ridge, some studies show one in four babies born with FAS.” The numbers alone show how disturbing this situation is.
She also tweeted, “LaMere: To those who say people will go further to get alcohol if Whiteclay is shut down, I first say, “Prove it.” Alcoholism is an awful stereotype of Native Americans as a whole, but not all tribes are affected by it. Pine Ridge is one major example because of manipulative people in Whiteclay trying to get rich at the expense of indigenous well-being. It’s sickening but real and it’s important to acknowledge the facts and make some attempt at working towards a solution.
Last year, I had the privilege to attend a screening of John Maisch’s Sober Indian, Dangerous Indian film. The film title comes from the idea that “a sober Indian is a dangerous Indian”. Whiteclay is not only a source of mass income for the distributors there, it is also a way for Americans to suppress the power of indigenous communities to think and act for themselves to better their conditions. A “sober Indian” would pose a threat to the structure of America for multiple reasons. Not only are activists trying to get rid of the alcohol distributors in Whiteclay for health purposes, but they also want to see the Oglala Lakota begin to thrive and fend for themselves.
From what I can recall, Maisch followed the stories of a couple indigenous people who were struggling with an alcohol addiction due to the proximity of Whiteclay. One of them, who was now sober, was in attendance and spoke briefly about his struggles as an alcoholic and a few anecdotes. Frank LaMere was also in attendance and called everyone there to act on this injustice. This was the second time that I had heard Mr. LaMere speak.
My first encounter with Frank LaMere was probably one of the most memorable days of my junior year in high school. I was pretty unaware of Native American oppression up to that point, aside from the minute details that my grandmother shared with me about her time at boarding school. Growing up in the Catholic school system in Lincoln, there was not a push to learn the facts outside of our history books, and my dad didn’t like to talk politics so I was just as naive as the rest of my peers. Thankfully, my American Literature teacher had started off our course with some Native American literature. He was about to switch jobs and had no problem working outside of the curriculum. We talked about origin stories and wrote our own and made our way up to the present state of Native American affairs. It was awful and disturbing but didn’t seem to affect the majority of my peers. To close our Native American section, my teacher brought in Frank LaMere.
My first encounter with Frank LaMere was probably one of the most memorable days of my junior year in high school. He was not an intimidating man, and had recently suffered a stroke and lost a daughter who was only a couple years older than I was. He looked exhausted, but amazingly enough, he stood the entire hour on stage, speaking in a way that he would to a friend. His message resonated with me and I could feel myself wanting to stand up and applaud at the end of every sentence. I think I even had to wipe a few tears, embarrassing the friends I was sitting with. I fangirled like crazy to say the least.
The next week, I sat with my mom in my guidance counselor’s office as she asked me what my plans were for my future and college. I told her I wanted to be an activist for Native Americans. I kid you not, both my mother’s and counselor’s jaws hit their knees in shock. They seemed to think I was being silly, but when I didn’t budge, they began to take me more seriously. To this day, my parents don’t 100% back me up on my goal to be an activist, and adding writer to my list of dream jobs has really turned them off, but that’s okay. It gives me an added incentive to prove to them that I can not only do it but also make a career out of it.
I owe a huge thank you to Frank LaMere (whom I plan to name my future Corgi after), for unconsciously fueling my dreams and continuously being a huge inspiration for me.
Woundsofwhiteclay.com is a website written by students of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It includes a variety of stories and facts about the relationship and issues between Whiteclay, NE and the Pine Ridge Reservation.
About the featured image: “On Jan. 25, 2010, a drunk driver veered head-on into a car carrying Pine Ridge residents Randy Skye Kaline, 30, Summer Rose Kaline, 28, and Burt Benjamin Kaline III, 36. All three were killed. Each had two children.” -James Woolridge
Thanks to Vanessa Daves for snippets and quotes from the Whiteclay rally last week.