With protests, lawsuits and political pressure having failed to stop beer sales in tiny Whiteclay, Neb., students from three Nebraska universities and a high school are turning to consumer power as the latest weapon in the decades-long dispute.
It worked with fast food. Maybe, the students reason, it will work with Whiteclay beer sales that contribute to social ills on the neighboring Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The students, led by Creighton Prep graduates who were first inspired by a high school class, on Tuesday announced a boycott of Budweiser beer and other Anheuser-Busch products. They're picking on Bud because Anheuser-Busch products compose a large majority of the beer that is sold by the four off-sale stores in Whiteclay — 4.3 million 12-ounce cans in 2011. The town has about a dozen residents. Most of the beer is sold to people from the Pine Ridge reservation, where alcohol is banned.
Creighton University senior David Fuxa and other leaders of the student group Whiteclay Awareness detailed the boycott Tuesday during a press conference at Creighton.
Fuxa said consumer pressure has caused fast food restaurants to offer healthier menus. Maybe it can also bring change to the seemingly intractable situation in Whiteclay.
“As consumers, we have the power to change an industry,” Fuxa said.
The students said they want Anheuser-Busch to purchase and close the four off-sale liquor stores in Whiteclay, and to help federal, state and tribal governments expand alcohol treatment on Pine Ridge.
Anheuser-Busch public relations representatives in St. Louis declined an opportunity to comment Tuesday.
In a letter to the New York Times in May, Luiz Edmond, president of Anheuser-Busch InBev's North American operations, wrote, “We care about the tragic problems of tribal members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and are greatly concerned about alcohol abuse there and anywhere. When our products become associated with a problem, it is damaging to all of us as parents and members of communities, and to us as a company; it's the last thing we want for our consumers or our products.”
Edmond wrote that the corporation “can't control the actions on the tribe's reservation,” but that it wants to help address the problems.
In 2012, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which governs the Pine Ridge reservation, sued the four Whiteclay beer stores as well as regional distributors and four manufacturers: Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors Brewing Co., MillerCoors LLC and Pabst Brewing Co.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in October.
“There is, in fact, little question that alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributes significantly to tragic conditions on the reservation,” U.S. District Judge John M. Gerrard wrote in his October ruling. “And it may well be that the defendants could, or should, do more to try to improve those conditions for members of the tribe. But that is not the same as saying that a federal court has jurisdiction to order them to do so.”
On Tuesday, Fuxa said the Whiteclay Awareness group has 40 members at Creighton, and more than 100 when combined with groups at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and elsewhere in the state.
Fuxa and Cameron Popp, a UNL senior, have sought to be involved in the group since Frank LaMere, a Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska activist, spoke to their Prep class about Whiteclay in 2009.
On Tuesday, Popp spoke on behalf of the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange, a UNL group for Native American students. He and Popp were joined by other students from UNL, Creighton and UNO, including Lexie LaMere, Frank LaMere's daughter.
Now a Creighton student, Lexie LaMere recalled family trips in her childhood to western Nebraska that avoided Whiteclay. Her parents didn't think children should see the things that happen in the village, she said.
She recently came to realize that children, mothers and entire families from Pine Ridge daily see the alcohol-related problems from which her parents had sought to shield her.
LaMere said she and other students do not judge, lest they be judged, and do not malign, lest they be maligned. But she felt she must join the effort to end what the students called a destructive relationship between Whiteclay beer stores and the reservation.
“We hope the boycott will bring awareness ... and we hope change,” Lexie LaMere said.
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