Whiteclay activists turn attention to beer distributors

By Nate Jenkins
Lincoln, Nebraska (AP) 9-07

Activists concerned about the high rate of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota are now blaming beer distributors and plan protests in Scottsbluff.

A protest was planned by Nebraskans for Peace at High Plains Budweiser. It is one of several distributors that deliver beer to the handful of stores in Whiteclay, population 14, that sell more than 4 million cans of beer annually, mostly to American Indians who walk or drive to the village from the nearby reservation, which is officially dry.

To date, Nebraskans for Peace has mainly garnered attention by staging beer blockades just outside Whiteclay aimed at keeping beer from entering the reservation. Now the group is going after beer distributors for participating in what it calls “broader economic collusion that enables dealers in Whiteclay to operate.”

“Given the high volume of sales daily taking place in this remote border town ... the four Whiteclay dealers, on their own, could not possibly sustain an operation of this scale without outside assistance,” Nebraskans for Peace said in a statement. “Somebody else is supplying the suppliers, meaning the mechanics for maintaining the alcohol supply in this ... hamlet extend much deeper into the state.”

The group says beer distributors are “peddling poison.”

Though it is not legally or contractually required to deliver beer to the Whiteclay stores, the company has a policy of delivering products to all the dealers in its area, said Jeff Scheinost, owner and general manager of High Plains.

“I have an assigned territory and they’re in my assigned territory,” said Scheinost.

The reservation has one of the highest alcoholism-related mortality rates in the country, and Nebraskans for Peace says the alcoholism rate is about 80 percent.

“The reservation lies in South Dakota,” Scheinost said when asked about the group’s allegation that his company contributes to alcoholism on the reservation. “I have no control over what happens on the reservation. We support responsible drinking by responsible individuals – we don’t want to see people get intoxicated and drink and drive.

“But for me to comment on the social responsibility of the reservation, of the Indians, or that situation, we’re all responsible for our own actions.”