LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The town of Whiteclay, Neb., has a population of 14 people. But its four liquor stores sell 4 million cans of beer each year, mostly to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is officially dry and right across the state line. The effort to close the Whiteclay stores has spanned decades. But as Jim Kent reports, there's a new assault on two fronts, including one from a minister who's looking to buy the stores.
JIM KENT, BYLINE: Pastor Bruce BonFleur is one of a dozen people appointed to the Whiteclay task force a year ago by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. Their goal was to find solutions to the long-simmering conflict.
BRUCE BONFLEUR: It was about midway through that last year that at one of those meetings, one of the beer store owners, in frustration, just kind of blurted out, we just need to sell. You know, I need to sell, you know, get out.
KENT: Those comments, echoed by all the store owners, reflected frustration from years of protest over the sale of alcohol to tribal members.
BONFLEUR: So when he said that, I said to him - well, if that really becomes a situation that you're serious about, come see me. I don't have any moneybags attached to me. But we do have some contacts with foundations and other groups of people. About four months later, one of the beer store owners, representing all four, drove into our driveway at our house in Whiteclay and said, hey, the guys have got together, and we want to sell.
KENT: So Pastor BonFleur formed a nonprofit and went to work trying to raise the capital. His goal was to close the stores while helping the Oglala Sioux Tribe and revitalizing the tiny town of Whiteclay. The store owners confirmed that effort. But citing concerns over the sale, none agreed to go on record for this story. The price they gave Pastor BonFleur was $6.3 million.
BONFLEUR: We hope that the good people of Nebraska and whoever else hears this - nationwide or worldwide, whatever - will say, this is one way that we can end this. We can end this travesty.
KENT: Outside Stateline Liquor, April Thunder Hawk is just getting in her car. The young Lakota woman is neatly dressed in jeans and a light jacket and is carrying a small paper bag. She says that even though she stops by here regularly, she'd be happy if all the stores closed.
APRIL THUNDER HAWK: I think that that'd be awesome.
THUNDER HAWK: I don't know. It just looks depressing around here. It's just horrible. I don't like these four stores, but I still come here.
KENT: Because there aren't many other options, even for snacks and soft drinks. But there are plans underway for a better future for Whiteclay. Pastor BonFleur says his friend is setting up a warehouse for donated building materials to create mini homes. And Family Dollar has announced a Whiteclay location once the liquor stores are gone. Nebraska State Senator Tom Brewer is a member of the Oglala Tribe and the first Native American to serve in his state's legislature. He says there are other factors prompting the store owners to sell.
TOM BREWER: There is charges right now against all four store owners for bootlegging and the fact that there's been several hundred ambulance calls. And it just has become a terrible burden.
KENT: That burden could be lifted on April 6 when the Nebraska Liquor Commission decides whether to renew the stores' licenses. Even if it doesn't, lawsuits are unlikely and sales could continue. So Pastor BonFleur will keep trying to raise the millions necessary to buy out the stores and close their businesses once and for all.
For NPR News, I'm Jim Kent in Whiteclay, Neb.
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