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Oglala Sioux President Squanders Chance to Talk Whiteclay with Nebraska Governor

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman sat down yesterday to talk about exploitative alcohol sales at Whiteclay, just across the NE–SD border from the Pine Ridge Reservation. It didn't go well:

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 him to solve alcohol problems on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

“He said, 'It's not my problem, it's your problem,'” 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” [Joe Duggan, "Meeting on Whiteclay Alcohol Sales Ends Quickly with No Progress," Omaha World-Herald, 2013.07.08].

I'm going to be rough on President Brewer here. Whoever said whatever, Brewer is the one who got up and left after three minutes. Governor Heineman didn't kick him out of the office or have troopers arrest him for another bounced check.

Whiteclay is a sore spot. Stopping the white exploitation of the neighboring Lakota community is a genuinely hard problem to solve. It's not a winning issue for Governor Heineman: everyone who benefits from alcohol sales in Whiteclay is on his side of the border, and darn near everyone hurt is outside his voter pool. Governor Heineman wasn't going to open the conversation with a 100% mea culpa. He approached the conversation with what a properly skeptical Indian ought to expect from one of the conquering class: defensiveness, denial, and blame. The first three minutes are destined to be posturing.

The proper tactic is to play along, defuse, and push through to the productive part of the conversation. If the Governor tried to open the conversation by shifting the blame to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, President Brewer could have spent five or ten minutes talking about his side's anti-alcohol efforts. "Here's what we're doing. Yup, we're trying. Nope, it's not enough. Yup, we're short on resources. Now, what could you do to help?"

Maybe Governor Heineman would never give a satisfactory answer to that question, but you won't know after just three minutes. When you've got an hour with the Governor, with any governor, you use that full hour. Maybe he'll change his mind. Maybe you'll get useful information. Maybe you'll impress him with your charm, openness, and commitment to finding practical solutions and thus open the door for further conversations... which are certainly necessary, since you're not going to solve Whiteclay in one hour, never mind three minutes.

Maybe talking with the White man won't solve the problem. Maybe the Oglala Sioux Tribe can only win through self-reliance and direct action. But if productive dialogue is possible, President Brewer made it less likely with his premature walk-out yesterday.


  1. Bill Dithmer 2013.07.09

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

    This seems to be a common theme among those that want attention on this reservation. The president was not there to accomplish anything, there is nothing he could have accomplished even if he wanted to. The governors hands were tied by the law.

    Add to this the fact that the Pine Ridge is getting ready to vote on beer sales themselves, again, and this little known tidbit. The tribe for years held the liquor license for Cedar Pass Lodge at Badlands National Park just outside the reservation. WTF Batman are they really saying "do as I say not as I do."

    Bryan Brewer, wasn't there to talk about beer sales in Whiteclay, he was there to get publicity for himself and the tribe. He should have been talking to our do nothing Governor for assistance in setting up more treatment centers on the reservation, not complaining about something the tribe plans to do themselves. But then that would have meant talking to one of the people responsible for the foster care screw up wouldn't it?

    Although I feel for my friends that have a problem with booze here on the Pine Ridge, it is not the responsibility of the sellers of beer in Whiteclay to fix the problems here. It is the tribal councils problem on the reservation itself. The answer to this problem, along with many others is of course "jobs."

    We could have a vey nice economy here on this reservation, one that we could be proud of,if the council would just do a couple of things. These wouldn't be hard decisions for most people but they seem to be almost impossible for the council to tackle.

    First press as hard as they can to completely legalize the sale of all forms of alcohol on the reservation. Tax hell out of it, and use those tax recourses wisely.

    Second. Get rid of the present business climate that has been the ruination of this reservation. Instead of asking a cooperation what that business could do for the reservation, the council people need to ask each other what they could do to get the business to come here and facilitate getting the most possible people to work.

    Poverty and drug addiction go hand in hand. The best way to help get those problems under control is to create jobs. It's unfortunate that the tribe has had the tools all these years to help its own people but refused to use them.

    Bryan Brewer is a man looking for someone else to fix his problems, for the tribe, while never admitting that those problems exist because of the tribe itself. What's even worse is that the people of the Pine Ridge continue to elect the same types to the council every election cycle.

    They need people, now, that think in terms of the future, not the past.

    They need council members that can put their climb up the tribal social latter on hold and put the problems of the people on the reservation, as a whole, as their number one priority.

    They don't need just progressive thinkers, they need doers. People that kick butt and take names to get what they want done, done. "If you cant get it done, get the hell out of the road and I'll find someone that can," kind of attitude.

    I'm going to give three things that the tribe could do without it costing anything but time.

    Take advantage of the natural resourses for tourism. Partner with big resorts around the world that already do huge business and let them build here in exchange for "jobs." Big resorts, little resorts, but all exclusive in one way or another. And all paid for with someone else's money. Its all bout marketing a friendly business climate to the right people.

    Start a housing business, not a housing project. Find houses that are easy to set up, that will last a lifetime, and are state of the art easy to heat and cool. And yes I do know what those houses would be. Make experts in this tribe in building sustainability, reliability, and energy consumption. Pay close attention to the people that set up the new wind industry on the reservations, and see how they do business. Use their professionalism as a model and work from there.

    And last, and I shouldn't even tell anyone about this. There are products that are here naturally on this reservation that have a value to the right people. One of those I gave a name to years ago, Puckermuck. It is the dirt that is in the Big White River, and on the ground in the badlands. Used in mud baths it tightens the skin like nothing you have ever used. Used a facial it is like a face lift without the surgery. And marketed right would be worth about a hundred dollars for a six gallon bucket of the dry stuff. There are more, but that one is so easy it makes you wonder why someone hasn't taken advantage of it before.

    Bryan you are in the road. You are putting your self importance in front of the good of your people. What would Crazy Horse or Red Cloud say about the way you are action?

    The Blindman

  2. DB 2013.07.09

    First, everyone needs to realize that access to alcohol is not the problem. Hopelessness, poverty, abuse, and disease are what is causing people to turn to alcohol. We need to look at the root of the problem and give these alcoholics a reason to live and not drink.

  3. interested party 2013.07.09

    thank you doctor sociology.

  4. interested party 2013.07.09

    First, everyone needs to realize that access to food is not the problem. Hopelessness, poverty, abuse, and disease are what is causing people to turn to food. We need to look at the root of the problem and give these obese white people a reason to live and not over eat

  5. Rorschach 2013.07.09

    Well said Bill Dithmer.

    Having just seen the new Lone Ranger movie, I wonder if the aged Tonto who tells the story might benefit from some of that "puckermuck" to make him look more like Johnny Depp again.

  6. DB 2013.07.09

    Obese white people have the same emotional/physical/financial problems that many addicts do. Not sure why you think pointing out problems of "whites" has anything to do with this. feel the need to make race at the forefront. Even if you dig into it, obesity affects more natives than whites.

    What happens if you take away White Clay? Do you think anything would change?

  7. interested party 2013.07.09

    Republicannabals so hate being called racists.

  8. DB 2013.07.09

    I think the only racist in here is you. Not once have I denigrated native americans or the issues that affect their sovereign nations. What I have said applies to all demographics and all centralized areas that have high levels of addiction.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2013.07.09

    "Whiteclay is a sore spot. Stopping the white exploitation of the neighboring Lakota community is a genuinely hard problem to solve"

    Explain how whites are exploiting Native Americans in another state...or nation when that bit of BS serves their purpose?

    They create their own hopelessness by reproducing like rabbits without regard to the grass supply.

    Housing can be made that essentially requires no fuel and is nearly indestructable. Use concrete slabs with a few inches of foam insulation panels between them. Nebraska farm research made tip up concrete wall for silage trenches years ago before rigid foam insulation was common. The same methods could be used to make concrete homes.

    The RC Journal just had a story on a bark stripper that will strip bark of of pine beetle damaged logs. With all the unemployed males on the reservation, they could probably have a good sawmill operation and solve their own housing problem.

    My guess is that addictive and bad as alcohol is for those of European extraction where generation after generation has been exposed to alcohol, alcohol for Natives may be even more addictive and damaging since they have not "evolved" in the same way with regard to alcohol...just as "white" diseases were devastating to them.

  10. interested party 2013.07.09

    Wiken, you're just as bad as your GOP counterpart: the rez is the fourth world trapped in, ye gerrymandered into mostly red states without any visible means of reversing the hopelessness visited upon them by an uncaring country.

    Neither one of you come to Madville to learn: you come here to deposit unwelcome offal and make sure we all have our noses rubbed it.

    The debarker is one white guy's idea to treat symptoms of a problem of failed policy foisted upon America through the Bush-era 'healthy forests initiative:' one more brick in the freakin' wall.

    You people make me puke.

  11. Douglas Wiken 2013.07.09

    Well, one white guy's idea that will undo Bush incompetence and failed policies is worth something, and any Natives can probably also take advantage of it. The door is open for accomplishment if they want to get past hopelessness instead of enjoying whining about it.

  12. interested party 2013.07.09

    The tribes neither want nor need your input.

  13. Douglas Wiken 2013.07.10

    I don't give a flying f*** if the tribes want my advice or not. They ignore it at their own peril however..even if that is an incredibly inflated view of my own perspective.

    The romantic view of ancient stone age culture makes no more sense than the GOP economic mythology. The whining "White guys are the cause of all our problems" serves only the professionals of ethnic specialness and the tribal politicians who exploit it for their own profit.

    I admire the Native Americans who make something of themselves and work to move their families ahead despite the blizzard of crap they get from the loafers and hangers-on.

  14. Rorschach 2013.07.10

    Speaking of Johnny Depp, I see in the news he wants to buy Wounded Knee and give it back to the tribes. I think that is admirable, and he wouldn't miss the $4 million that the owner of the property wants for it. My only problem is anybody giving that extortionist property owner the time of day. That guy ought to be ashamed of himself.

    It used to trouble me seeing Spirit Mound by Vermillion used as a cattle feedlot. Ultimately Spirit Mound was reclaimed without excessive profiteering by the property owners. Will paying off a profiteer complete the sacred circle regarding the Wounded Knee site? I tend to believe that how things happen is just as important as what happens. When the time and circumstances are right, this property will come to the tribes in a way they can feel good about.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.10

    Who reclaimed Spirit Mound, R? How did that come about And should we ask Depp to buy Whiteclay and shut down the liquor sales?

  16. John Hess 2013.07.11

    One of the distributors has stopped going to Whiteclay because the trucks are being shot at with pellets. That tidbit from the Interested Party website. Yes, an occasional guilty pleasure. My mother said the word puke is worse than swearing, so you better watch your mouth out here Larry.

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