The unincorporated town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, was once an ugly stain on the state.
It sits just two miles from Pine Ridge Village, which is home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Whiteclay may only boast a population of 12 people, but the town’s 4 liquor stores sold 4 million cans of beer annually. It may seem like a booming industry but it took advantage of the Tribal citizens of Pine Ridge, which is a dry reservation, by contributing to already existing social issues that plague the reservation.
In 2017, ago the Nebraska Liquor Commission did not renew any liquor licenses for these businesses, affectedly causing to them to close. The closure of these stores ended a dark chapter for the town and recently a non-profit corporation was formed to turn the town’s dark history into a powerful legacy.
Whiteclay Makerspace was formed with the intention of buying one of the closed liquor stores and converting it into an intentional makerspace for Pine Ridge area artisans. A building has since been purchased and remodeled for that purpose and recently, district Rotary members from Hot Springs and Rapid City secured a nearly $60,000 grant from The Rotary Foundation to support the makerspace.
Rapid City Rushmore Rotary member Linda Peterson helped secure the grant. She is looking forward to economic build up for not only Pine Ridge area artists and craft makers, but also to the positive development of White Clay.
“We do need to rectify the wrongs that were done all around the reservation and that is one area that felt so bad,” said Peterson. “Everybody felt so disappointed in that whole scenario for so many years. So they have an opportunity to do something good and build up a business. Whiteclay is actually, there is so several businesses going on there now so it is kind of a little movement of economic development going on around. The owner of the building is buying more land and is going to build more facilities there for the public, so it could be a very major artist hub and visitor industry site to come and see so we are all really excited about it. It’s pretty awesome.”
Elements of the grant will go into providing needed tools and equipment for these artists and craft makers to produce their work. This means the building will have 5 unique centers that include, quilting and beading, painting and drawing, photography, woodworking and conference rooms. It will have a gallery of art in front, and a stand up supply shop for artists and crafts makers. In Partnership with First Peoples Fund, artists can attend training sessions for development of their small businesses of art production such as entrepreneurship, marketing, online marketing and more. Currently the program is in its infancy and will develop in coming years.