Nate Grasz, Policy Director of Nebraska Family Alliance, was invited to provide testimony before the General Affairs Committee during an interim hearing on the social ills that plague Whiteclay, Nebraska and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Watch Nate’s testimony or read the full script below.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome a Consistent Problem in Whiteclay and Pine Ridge

*Editor’s Note: Due to problems while recording the above video, a few sentences of Nate’s testimony are missing or moved for clarity.

Good afternoon, Chairman Larson and members of the General Affairs Committee. My name is Nate Grasz and I am the Policy Director for the Nebraska Family Alliance.

It is a privilege to appear before you today. The need to address the issues taking place in Whiteclay and the surrounding area crosses all faith bases, all religions, and all belief systems.

What is happening in and around Whiteclay is tragic, and the alcohol impacting both Whiteclay and the Pine Ridge Reservation just a few hundred yards across our state line is nothing short of an epidemic. We know the figures, and we know the damage. Children are being born into broken families and are exposed to alcohol and violence while they are still developing.

Alcoholism on the reservation is estimated to affect over 85 percent of the families; the suicide rate is more than twice the national rate, teen suicide is 150% higher than the national average; and 1 in 4 babies are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

People are even prostituting themselves for money to purchase alcohol – for as little as $5, and we know that sex trafficking is also taking place in the area.

This is all happening despite alcohol being banned on the reservation. With 3 and a half million cans of beer sold each year in Whiteclay, it is obvious that much of the alcohol causing so much damage is coming from Nebraska, and there is not enough law enforcement in Whiteclay to enforce the law and stop the bootlegging, public drunkenness, and violence that is causing so much harm.

To think that an unincorporated town in Nebraska of just 14 people could be contributing to the destruction of so many lives on the Pine Ridge reservation and in the very streets of Whiteclay, is unconscionable.

It is imperative that we recognize this is not just about adults making bad decisions, because innocent third parties, families and children, are being hurt.

The known national average for fetal alcohol syndrome is less than 2 per 1,000 live births, yet this entirely preventable birth defect is diagnosed in at least 1 out of every 4 children born on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. This means that when a woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. The alcohol interferes with the child’s ability to get enough oxygen and nourishment for normal development.

Innocent children in the womb are literally drowning in alcohol from the predatory beer sales in Whiteclay, and are left with mental and physical disabilities for life.

South Dakota’s DHHS showed that in 2014 there were 312 live births in Oglala Lakota County (previously known as Shannon County) which covers most but not all of the reservation.

With the conservative 1 in 4 estimate, in just one year that’s at least 78 babies affected for life because of alcohol, because they were subjected to something against their will while in the womb. This is about more than individual responsibility. These precious, innocent lives are being damaged by something entirely preventable and out of their control.

If this were happening anywhere else it would be addressed and fixed immediately, but because it is out of sight and out of mind it has continued. We recognize that there is no easy fix to the situation in Whiteclay, but doing nothing is unacceptable.

We must keep working to find a solution and build common ground, because every day families and children are being hurt, including the most innocent of all, children who are still in the womb, and it is undeniable that Nebraska is contributing to the problem.

Ultimately, Nebraska cannot fix a reservation in South Dakota. But we can work with the local government, law enforcement, and the tribe to do our part. We can clean up Whiteclay; we can tear down abandoned buildings; we can enforce the law and cut down on the violence, public drunkenness, bootlegging and trafficking.

There is no simple solution, but what is taking place here today is important, because we’re talking about the issue instead of avoiding it.

And that is what we must keep doing, and why we are so grateful for the tremendous efforts of so many, especially Sen. Pansing Brooks, and we applaud her for refusing to let this issue fall through the cracks.

It is our hope that you will consider the innocent lives impacted by what is happening in Whiteclay, and keep working to find solutions, because Whiteclay is no longer out of sight, out of mind. It’s here, and we can, and must, do better.

Nate Grasz

Nate Grasz

Policy Director
Nate is the Policy Director at Nebraska Family Alliance and host of the Capitol Report program.