The Chehalis Tribe jointly owns and operates the Great Wolf Lodge Resort on its homelands in Grand Mound, Washington. Photo: Jeff Sandquist

Bill to repeal old ban on distilleries in Indian Country gains steam

Bipartisan efforts to repeal an outdated ban on distilleries in Indian Country continue to gain momentum on Capitol Hill.

The ban became law in 1834, during a more paternalistic and destructive era of Indian policy. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who introduced S.3060 last Wednesday, said it's time to get rid of it.

“Getting this outdated law off the books is an important step to supporting tribal self-determination and economic development in Indian Country,” Cantwell said. “When Native American entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create businesses, they thrive and strengthen the communities around them.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), the bill's co-sponsor, agreed. He called the ban a barrier to economic development in Indian Country.

“The federal government should not be creating or maintaining barriers preventing Native Americans from pursuing business opportunities on their lands,” Moran said on June 13. “Repealing this antiquated 1834 regulation is a sensible way to help Indian tribes create jobs and businesses and bolster their local economies. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this bipartisan, bicameral bill.”

Introduction of S.3060 comes after swift consideration of a companion measure. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act, at a markup session on May 8, following a favorable hearing on April 26.

"I am pleased that the Senate will consider this overdue legislation," said Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr., of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, whose leaders are backing the bill in hopes of establishing a distillery on their homelands in Washington.

"It will allow the Chehalis Tribe to pursue its economic development efforts that have proven beneficial, not only to the tribe and its members, but also to the surrounding non-Indian community," Pickernell continued. "Congress has recently undertaken efforts to repeal many of the antiquated and paternalistic laws that impair development in Indian Country and this legislation advances those efforts.”

H.R.5317 has not yet been brought to the floor of the House for passage. But it was so well received at the hearing in April that some Republicans and Democrats were jokingly planning a "bipartisan, fact finding mission" to learn more about distilleries and breweries in Washington.

"I may need a job one of these days and I want to know, is the sampling job taken?" asked Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a co-sponsor of the measure.

All kidding aside, the ban at issue was enacted on June 30, 1834 with a seemingly simple mission: to "regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes." To Congress, that meant prohibiting the manufacture of "ardent spirits" on reservations.

To let the public know how serious the issue was, the law authorized the use of "the military force of the United States" to destroy any alcohol distilleries on tribal lands.

The ban was signed into law by Andrew Jackson. Just a month prior, he secured passage of the Indian Removal Act as part of his campaign to remove tribes from their homelands in the Southeast.

"Indians, the thinking went, were uncivilized, incapable of enlightened self-rule and bound to be fleeced by white settlers," C. Jarrett Dieterle of Kevin R. Kosar, both of the non-partisan R Street Institute, wrote in The New York Times earlier this month in discussing the era.

S.3060 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Both Cantwell and Moran serve on the committee.

The Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing on H.R.5317 and H.R.211

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Committee on Natural Resources Markup on H.R.5317

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