A faith ministry in Nebraska has started a fundraising campaign to buy out four stores that sell millions of cans of beer each year in a tiny village next to a South Dakota Indian reservation plagued by alcoholism. The Lakota Hope street ministry in Whiteclay, Neb., is looking to raise at least $6.3 million to close the stores, which are only about 200 yards from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The officially dry reservation is plagued by high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and encompasses some of the nation's poorest counties. Whiteclay only has about a dozen residents, yet the four stores sold 3.5 million cans of beer in 2015. The beer stores have remained opened for decades despite state investigations into alleged liquor law violations, lawsuits, and protests that occasionally turned violent, reports the AP.
Ministry founder Bruce BonFleur and his wife have lived in Whiteclay for nearly two decades, feeding people on the streets and launching programs designed to help members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. BonFleur said he has talked with the businesses, and "we believe that the beer store owners are ready to sell out." The stores have been facing increasing legal and political pressure, and the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission is set to meet March 7 to discuss the stores' liquor licenses amid complaints that the village lacks adequate law enforcement. Last month, the local county board with jurisdiction over Whiteclay recommended that the state renew the licenses, partially amid concerns that closing the stores would lead to an increase of intoxicated drivers in Nebraska.