New initiatives announced to help Whiteclay, Pine Ridge Area

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WHITECLAY, Neb. (KNEP) - New initiatives were unveiled as Nebraska lawmakers and other state government representatives visited Whiteclay Wednesday.

A mixture of law enforcement, treatment and economic development projects were discussed as the group including state Senators Patty Pansing-Brooks, Brett Lindstrom, Roy Baker and Tanya Cook spent the majority of their day in the area. The tour included the Lakota Hope Center, Oglala Nursing Home and downtown Whiteclay. "While we cannot control what happens in South Dakota or nor can we control anything that's happening on the Pine Ridge reservation, we can control what is happening here in Nebraska so that's why we're here today. To bring this health into the open. To shine a spotlight onto Whiteclay," says Pansing-Brooks.

Whiteclay is unincorporated and only has a population of 12, but local businesses sell millions of cans of beer over the course of a single year, much of it to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where alcohol sales are illegal.

One new initiative would include a new Nebraska State Patrol substation with enhanced hours of enforcement and removal of abandoned buildings, but those items would only be a portion of the plan. Pansing-Brooks noted that 1 in 4 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and the infant mortality rate is 3 x higher than the national average. To help address those issues, plans are in the works for a drug and alcohol detox and treatment center.

Expanding opportunity in the area is yet another goal of the initiatives announced during a news conference. An expansion of economic development opportunities, as well as job training, are being sought for the community.

Pansing-Brooks also noted that the area has had limited internet access, with no wireless broadband. She says Viaero Wireless has stepped up to the plate and installed a tower that will provide service not only to Whiteclay, but also to the Pine Ridge Reservation, which she says is a step in the right direction.