Meeting on Whiteclay alcohol sales ends quickly with no progress - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 10:48 am
Meeting on Whiteclay alcohol sales ends quickly with no progress

LINCOLN — The first meeting between the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Nebraska's governor could prove to be the last.

The two leaders met Monday at the State Capitol to discuss the flash point issue of alcohol sales in the northwest Nebraska border town of Whiteclay. According to accounts from both sides, the meeting, scheduled for one hour, lasted just a few minutes.

President Bryan Brewer said he walked out after Gov. Dave Heineman said it was not up to Nebraska to solve alcohol problems on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

“He said, 'It's not my problem, it's your problem. Solve it,' ” Brewer said.

Jen Rae Wang, the governor's communications director who was present at the meeting, gave a far different account. When the governor asked Brewer what was being done by the tribe to provide treatment for those addicted to alcohol, Brewer refused to accept responsibility.

“The president started by being very confrontational and said he didn't have any responsibility for this,” Wang said. “That was a theme he said over and over again.”

Brewer, who requested the meeting, had hoped to persuade the governor to close Whiteclay's beer stores, which sell mainly to residents of the reservation, where alcohol is banned.

The four off-sale beer stores sold the equivalent of nearly 4 million cans of beer last year. Most of that beer and malt liquor ends up on the reservation, where alcohol-related deaths, assaults and child abuse are rampant.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Brewer accused the governor of having “blood on his hands” for not doing something to stop the exploitation of Lakota people. He said he will not deal with the governor in the future.

“I don't know why he's mad at me,” Brewer said. “I don't know why he agreed to meet with me.”

At a previously scheduled press conference Monday before the meeting, the governor said the Whiteclay stores sell a legal product. Unless store owners break the law, the State of Nebraska cannot revoke their liquor licenses, Heineman said.

“I'm going to suggest to President Brewer that on the reservation, they need to have more action on treatment of alcohol abuse,” Heineman said. “Let's tackle the problem head on. I think that's where they can improve.”

On the reservation that's home to about 50,000 people, there is just one drug and alcohol treatment center, Brewer said.

Other than agreeing that the meeting was short, the two sides in the dispute gave sharply differing portrayals of what happened Monday.

According to Wang, the governor reserved an hour for the meeting and made sure that his top advisers, including Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann, State Patrol Col. David Sankey and Chief of Staff Larry Bare, were present.

The two leaders shook hands and a “press person” who accompanied Brewer asked to take a picture of them, Wang said. The governor declined because, he said, Brewer had previously requested that there be no press coverage of the meeting.

The president refused to accept responsibility for problems caused by alcohol, Wang said. He then took a political turn by bringing up campaign contributions that Heineman has accepted from the alcohol industry.

“The governor responded by saying he takes issue with the president calling into question his integrity,” Wang said.

According to Brewer's account, he had been instructed before the meeting to bring no one with him. He honored the request, saying he did not have anyone with him.

Another person in the room did ask about a photo, to which the governor said: “Absolutely not.”

“I feel this was a form of disrespect,” Brewer said.

Shortly after the two sat down, Heineman placed an article on the table, highlighting how it reported that the governor has accepted campaign contributions from the liquor industry.

The governor wanted to know what Brewer's motive was in requesting the meeting.

The article was published by Alcohol Justice, a group working to bring an end to alcohol sales in Whiteclay, but Brewer said he had nothing to do with it.

A World-Herald review of campaign finance reports found that Heineman received nearly $164,000 in contributions from liquor interests from 2005 to 2012.

Between two and three minutes into the meeting, Brewer said, he stood up and left.

Despite years of protests and efforts to bring attention to the problems in Whiteclay, the situation remains largely unchanged. But a different approach could be on the horizon.

The Oglala Tribal Council voted last month to allow tribal members to decide whether to legalize the sale and consumption of alcohol on the reservation. Supporters of legalization say it would allow the tribe to generate revenue that could be directed to treatment while reducing the common practice of bootlegging. Some also hope it would drive the Whiteclay stores out of business.

A date for the referendum has not been selected.

In the meantime, Brewer said, he is moving forward with plans to set up a “port of entry” on reservation land just north of Whiteclay. Vehicles coming onto the reservation will be searched for alcohol and other contraband. He would like to establish checkpoints at other locations on the reservation as well.

Both sides said the outcome of Monday's meeting was unfortunate.

“The president was clearly not interested in having an open and honest conversation related to these difficult, sad and sometimes tragic issues occurring on the sovereign land with the sovereign people over whom the president governs,” Wang said.

Said Brewer: “I shook his hand. Now I wish I didn't.”

World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

Man, 21, shot in ankle while walking near 30th, U Streets
State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »