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Native American group working to change Whiteclay's legacy of destruction

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation wants to change the narrative of the small unincorporated border town of Whiteclay, Nebraska.

The small town’s four liquor stores left a decades-long scar on the people of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the land that once belonged to them.

The liquor stores sold 4 million cans of beer annually, mostly taking advantage of the Tribal citizens just two miles to the north. In 2017, the Nebraska Liquor Commission declined to renew the stores’ liquor licenses.

It took years of work by a variety of people to make that happen. Whiteclay’s booming alcohol industry, which took advantage of existing social issues faced by the people of Pine Ridge, was effectively shut down. Thunder Valley hopes the healing can now begin.

Thunder Valley CDC started on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a way to connect youth with the Lakota way of life. It continues its efforts to enhance the Oglala Lakota Oyate by offering a variety of initiatives such as food sovereignty, Lakota language education, housing and home ownership, a regenerative community development and more. The corporation recently acquired 48 acres of land in Whiteclay with the intent of building a holistic healing community.

Former Oglala Sioux Tribe attorney general and current Thunder Valley Executive Director Tatewin Means wants to write a new chapter focusing on healing, and changing the narrative around Whiteclay and the connection it had to her people.

Tatewin Means
Submitted photo
Tatewin Means

“It's tremendous because we're able to be really intentional about building a healing community that is focused on really our relatives that are on the periphery, those that are forgotten or invisible or having a harder time accessing resources,” said Means, who is the daughter of the late Russell Means, a prominent member of the American Indian Movement.

The idea of the community is transitional housing or permanent supportive housing with access to resources in one centralized place.

“Right now, we're focused on designing this community, what will it look like? What will be included?” said Means. “And that's going to take a lot of engagement with our community members, with justice-system stakeholders.”

This project is one of many initiatives that Thunder Valley is doing to help tribal citizens reclaim their identity.

“Reclaiming our identity as Lakota people, that's a part of liberation, right? That's a part of freedom,” said Means. “And so eliminating those messages of colonialism that have bound us for so many generations, and so how do you do that? How do you begin that process of decolonizing?”

Healing is a first step in that liberation process, according to Means.

“We can't hope and dream and think and act like Lakota again if we are still holding on to traumas, if we’re still holding on to colonial mindsets,” said Means. “We're finding our way through it just as everyone else is, but being open to that and making ourselves vulnerable to that, because it's scary to truly think about healing for ourselves. That takes a lot of courage.”

Means hopes that someday there can be a holistic healing community in each of Pine Ridge’s nine districts that’s intentional and specific to providing pathways for each district's members.