Tuesday marks the second anniversary of the closure of Whiteclay’s beer stores.
It was four years ago this summer that I met Whiteclay activists Frank LaMere, John Maisch and several other Nebraskans in Whiteclay to share how this unincorporated town of less than a dozen residents had irreconcilably changed the lives of all eight of my children. The Journal Star captured the meeting (“Filmmaker, activist seek change in Whiteclay," Aug. 16, 2015).
My husband, Randy, and I never envisioned fostering more than 160 children and adopting eight of those children from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. While it has been the joy of our lives, raising these children has also been filled with heartache, because each child has suffered from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
FASD is a neurological and cognitive disorder caused by gestational consumption of alcoholic beverages. In other words, our childrens’ biological mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant. Pine Ridge has one of the highest FASD rates in the world. It is estimated that at least one out of every four children in Pine Ridge is born with FASD.
That statistic may seem perplexing, considering alcoholic beverages have not been allowed to be lawfully sold, consumed or possessed in Pine Ridge for more than 120 years. It was perplexing until you drove 2 miles south of Pine Ridge, to the small border town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, where tribal members, including pregnant mothers, routinely went to consume beer on the streets and behind the buildings.
For the parents and caretakers of those whose lives were lost or permanently harmed by Whiteclay’s beer sales, we knew Nebraska should have shut down those beer stores a long time ago. There was no legitimate reason a community with no law enforcement was allowed to sell 3.5 million cans of beer a year to a nearby dry reservation.
The closure of Whiteclay’s beer stores on April 30, 2017, was nothing short of a miracle. But the store closures were only the first step.
Today, there are literally thousands of Pine Ridge residents who are suffering from FASD. Three to four generations of children have been impacted by FASD, and little has been done to diagnose or treat those who struggle with this disorder.
This can change. This must change.
Nebraskans can begin the process of mitigating the harms inflicted by Whiteclay’s beer sales. Together, we can build a state-of-the-art FASD and Trauma Center in Whiteclay, Nebraska, to address the trauma experienced by both Native and non-Native children and young adults.
Nebraska concluded an ugly chapter of its history when it closed Whiteclay’s beer stores. Now, it’s time for all of us to write a new chapter for Whiteclay, where death and destruction has been replaced with hope and healing.
This can be Nebraska’s new story.