Local View: Justice needed for voiceless at Whiteclay

Local View: Justice needed for voiceless at Whiteclay


  • Oct 12, 2018

Malcolm Gladwell once wrote, “Some problems are cheaper to solve than to manage.” Whiteclay beer sales were one of those problems.

Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of additional taxpayer dollars propping up law enforcement in the small unincorporated town, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission decided to deny the renewal of the four beer licenses that were selling more than 3.5 million cans of beer per year to tribal members from the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation nearby.

Today, you won’t hear about anyone unlawfully drinking beer, passed out, assaulted or murdered on the streets of Whiteclay. The town’s grocery and dollar stores are thriving, their customers no longer threatened by aggressive panhandlers.

Whiteclay is a safer place to operate a business today, not because Nebraska’s elected officials studied the problem, but because the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission took steps to solve the problem.

I applaud your recent editorial on the topic, (“Cooperation is key to reducing violence against Native women,” Oct. 3) where you stated that, “Justice for Wounded Foot and other Native women who were victims of violent crime is imperative.” But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Nebraska shouldn’t let legislation calling for studies serve as a substitute for action on the part of Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks, Tom Brewer and other like-minded public officials.

At the end of the day, we want to be remembered for truly bringing about justice, not just publishing well-timed press releases, when it comes to Whiteclay.

On Aug. 5, 2016, Sheridan County Sheriff Homer Robbins arrived in Whiteclay as Sherry Wounded Foot’s unconscious body was being loaded into an ambulance.

Dispatch logs indicate Sheriff Robbins deferred to tribal authorities. Ms. Wounded Foot would die less than two weeks later. To this day, Sheriff Robbins, along with Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons, who also represents at least one of Whiteclay’s former store owners in her personal law practice, remain in charge of Ms. Wounded Foot’s criminal investigation.

In addition to Ms. Wounded Foot, there are at least four other Pine Ridge residents who have died near Whiteclay over the past two decades, including Wilson Black Elk Jr., Ronald Hard Heart, John Means and Sherry’s brother, Sanford Wounded Foot.

If these murders are to be solved, it won’t be because Nebraska’s elected officials chose to study whether Native American women are missing or murdered at disproportionately high rates. We know they are.

If Whiteclay’s murders are to be solved, these elected officials must call on Sheridan County to formally transfer lead investigative responsibilities to the Nebraska State Patrol then commit the resources necessary for the State Patrol to investigate and solve these murders.

Just as some problems are cheaper to solve than to manage, there are times when elected officials need to stop studying the problem and start acting to bring about justice for those without a voice.

John Maisch