LINCOLN — An Oklahoma attorney and activist whose film about the misery caused by beer sales at Whiteclay, Nebraska, helped lead to the 2017 closure of four beer outlets is taking on a new goal — treating those damaged by alcohol abuse.

John Maisch, a Nebraska native and now a University of Central Oklahoma legal studies professor, recently purchased a cluster of buildings in the remote village with the intention of creating a “trauma center” that treats children and families affected by fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related maladies.

“This is legacy-defining work,” Maisch said. “Our children won’t just ask what we did to help close Whiteclay’s beer stores, they will ask what we did to mitigate the harm caused by these beer sales once the stores were closed.”

Building a “world class” trauma center in Whiteclay, he said, will “redefine” the border village.

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The $150,000 purchase of a 5.5-acre plot of land and buildings that formerly housed the Lakota Hope Center in Whiteclay is just the first step, he said. An advisory group is being formed, including health care professionals in Nebraska and South Dakota as well as tribal representatives, to guide development of the center. Maisch said there is not yet a timetable for when such a facility might open. A fetal alcohol summit is also scheduled in Whiteclay for Oct. 18 to 20.

Maisch’s 2014 documentary, “Sober Indian/Dangerous Indian,” helped focus attention on Whiteclay, whose four beer-only liquor stores sold more than 3.5 million cans of beer a year. Almost all the sales went to residents of the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which officially banned all liquor but suffered from high rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related crime. The rate of fetal alcohol disorders in newborns was estimated at one in four children, about 25 times the national rate.

Alan Jacobsen, a Lincoln businessman and Whiteclay activist, had initially signed a contract to buy the Lakota Hope land for the trauma center, but he died in May before he could close the deal. That’s when Maisch stepped in.

He said that Nora Boesem, a South Dakota authority on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder who has adopted several children with the problem, will lead the advisory group.

Since the closure of Whiteclay, vagrants — who used to openly drink and urinate in the streets — have left the unincorporated village, and a new convenience store has opened.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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