Whiteclay welcomes Makerspace and newfound hope for local artists

WHITECLAY, NEB. —  The small border town of Whiteclay, Nebraska has been making long, positive strides since alcohol sales ended in 2017. The stores are gone, but the buildings remain, and they’re being repurposed. Sunday, one of them opened as a very different kind of store, called the Whiteclay Makerspace.

Over 42 million cans of beer were sold in Whiteclay between 2007 and 2017, before alcohol licenses were revoked in April of that year. The town thrived off of liquor sales to reservation residents for over one hundred years, until the cans were trucked out for good. 

When the tap ran dry, hope flowed freely into the town of 12 and the surrounding area of Pine Ridge. Jonathan Ruybalid, President of Whiteclay Makerspace, talked about the changes he’s seen already. “As beer stores left and things changed here, there was a vacuum, and there’s a great opportunity.”

Whiteclay Makerspace opens its doorsOne opportunity came in the form of a former liquor store, which was purchased in November of 2018 to create a makerspace. With the nearest craft stores more than 90 minutes away, local native artists now have a place to get supplies and display their works. All of the creations are delicately crafted, and are made with authentic materials. “We’re providing a platform and a place for artists to help themselves,” Ruybalid explains.

Artists can use the space for a dollar a day, with an eight dollar monthly cap, so it’s an affordable, clean, inspiring place for creativity. “Artists carry the culture, whether it’s music, poetry, painting, or things that are made, as these artists and crafters make amazing things out of porcupine quills or elks tooth or buffalo hide, they are really carrying on the traditions and culture of their people,” adds Ruybalid.

Makerspace directors also look forward to the future of the business and town, with hope to inspire young generations too. “Our goal is to be able to have things like youth camps here, like day camps where youth would be able to sit with an artist and learn how to make something,” he says. “We’re excited about that opportunity for the Lakota people to pass on what they know and what really belongs to them.”

Once called the worst town in the nation, Whiteclay now stands as a beacon of positive change, prioritizing cultural expression and community collaboration where addiction had once prevailed.

“It’s a different Whiteclay. Come and see it.”

Categories: ConnectCenter1-Culture and Art, Local News, South Dakota News