On Sunday, August 26th, a member of the Sheridan County Nebraska Sheriff’s Office rolled down the window of his cruiser in Whiteclay Nebraska and aimed a can of mace at ten year old Wakinyan Conroy, a member of the Lakota Nation living on the Pine Ridge reservation. On that day, Wakinyan had been attending the Women’s March for Peace with his mother, Autumn Two Bulls. Two hundred people, both native and non-native, began the peaceful march in Pine Ridge South Dakota and followed Highway 87 for two miles until they reached the border town of Whiteclay.
Whiteclay has a population of 14, yet 4 liquor stores in the town sell 12,500 cans of beer each day. It has been documented that the stores sell to bootleggers, intoxicated people, and minors, as well as routinely trade beer for sexual favors. The tiny, unincorporated town lies less than 300 feet from the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
On August 26th, the women of the Pine Ridge reservation took action to end Whiteclay’s attack on their community. The Women’s March for Peace saw Lakota women, men, and their children take to the street along with their allies – AIM Grassroots, Native Youth Movement, Un-Occupy Albuquerque, Occupy Lincoln, Nebraskans for Peace, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, and Deep Green Resistance, along with non-native allies attending as individuals. Upon arriving in Whiteclay, Lakota leaders spoke from the heart about the effect of Whiteclay’s exploitative practices. “It’s for the children that we fight,” said Olowan Martinez, the organizer of the march.
Members of Deep Green Resistance organized an act of civil disobedience following the speeches. Five people locked their arms together with the use of PVC lockboxes and succeeded in clocking the road into Whiteclay for seven hours, costing the town’s liquor operation over $5000, before they were arrested and transported to the Rushville jail with the use of a feces-encrusted livestock trailer.
The blockade on the 26th is the second action in Whiteclay by Deep Green Resistance this summer. On June 9th, members of the group performed a similar blockade by chaining themselves together with U-locks. No arrests were made during the June action, and protesters willingly unchained themselves after the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office signed a written agreement to contact Lakota organizers and cooperate to end the abuses of Whiteclay’s liquor dealers. The Sheriff’s Office did not follow up on this commitment, and their lack of follow-through prompted the action and arrests on the 26th. You can watch the video of the protesters’ arrests below.
The fourteen person town does not only violate reservation law and the state laws put forth by the liquor commission. The town’s four liquor dealers go further by participating in the ongoing extermination of this continent’s First Nations and violating the human rights of the Lakota Oyate. Whiteclay generates thirty four million dollars in revenue each year, and though the town exist almost exclusively to sell to residents of the reservation, Pine Ridge remains one of the poorest places in the United States. Ninety seven percent of the Pine Ridge population lives below the federal poverty line.
Lakota women and children are hit especially hard by this systematic exploitation of their people. The infant mortality rate on Pine Ridge is three hundred percent higher than the national average, and one in four children is born with fetal alcohol syndrome. More than half the reservation’s adult residents battle addiction and disease. With such a future to look to, is it any wonder that the teenage suicide rate on Pine Ridge is one hundred and fifty percent higher than the national average? Domestic violence is rampant on the reservation, and while one in four women will be raped nationally, that figure rises to one in three when applied to indigenous women.
Nor do the owners and employees of the town’s bars and liquor stores restrict themselves to passive racism. At one point during the demonstration, a fourteen year old Lakota boy named Wallace was cornered and intimidated by four grown white men affiliated with a bar called the Arrowhead. In a video recorded during the incident, the men could be heard directing racial slurs at the fourteen year old. The four men were ignored by the present state troopers and Sheridan County Police, yet when Wallace attempted to defend himself, he was arrested and charged with a felony. The Sheridan PD took the minor into custody without parental consent. When ten year old Wakinyan and several others approached the police car to question the arresting officer’s right to do so, they were maced. Wakinyan took the brunt of this chemical assault, and has subsequently been hospitalized for trauma to his respiratory system.
Justice remains out of reach for Wakinyan and Wallace, victims of racist police brutality; for the Lakota women, whose demands for justice fall on the deaf ears of Nebraska law enforcement; for the indigenous peoples of this continent, who to this day are subjected to the genocidal practices of the United States’ government and economy. Shutting down Whiteclay once and for all will be only the first step toward reparations that are criminally overdue.