Whiteclay activists outline vision for fetal alcohol syndrome treatment center

Paul Hammel

April 21, 2019

LINCOLN — Two years after the notorious beer stores in Whiteclay were shut down, activists will outline their vision to create a treatment center for fetal alcohol syndrome in the northwest Nebraska village.

Borrowing advice from experts in the field from Michigan to Alaska, promoters are envisioning a first-of-its-kind center that will not only diagnose and assess the severity of damage from prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs, but lay out, and help families follow, a treatment plan.

“I know people feel great that there has been that change in Whiteclay, but everyone knew that was step one, and it wasn’t all that needed to change or happen,” said Nora Boesem, a South Dakota fetal alcohol clinician who has fostered more than 160 children from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “Now we need to work on restorative process.”

Boesem, who will be director of the proposed center, said the goal is to break the cycle of fetal alcohol syndrome that has extended for five generations in the Whiteclay-Pine Ridge area. Some level of fetal alcohol syndrome impacts as many as one in four children born on the reservation — 25 times the national rate.

She and others will discuss progress on the center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at a “Children of Whiteclay” event at Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Olin Hall in Lincoln. A possible location for the center in Whiteclay is being pursued, Boesem said. A fundraising goal has yet to be established.

Before the beer stores closed in Whiteclay, they sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer a year. Almost every sale went to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Reservation, leading to accusations that Whiteclay, and the State of Nebraska, were complicit in the alcohol-related problems of the impoverished reservation.

John Maisch