The Copper Crow Distillery is located on fee land within the Red Cliff Reservation in Bayfield, Wisconsin. It's believed to be the first distillery in Indian Country. Photo: Copper Crow Distillery

New law opens the door for distilleries in Indian Country

A bill signed into law this week opens the door for new economic development opportunities in Indian Country.

H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act, repeals a nearly 200-year-old ban on the manufacture of liquor on tribal lands. Enactment will enable the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation to open a distillery on its homelands in Washington.

“Through tribal sovereignty and self-determination, tribes can now open a distillery and provide jobs for their tribal members,” spokesperson Jeff Warnke told Stateline. “These economic developments help provide policing, health care, roads and Head Start programs for their children."

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has already embraced the idea. The Copper Crow Distillery opened on the reservation in Wisconsin earlier this year.

“It’s exciting to see a business,” Vice Chairman Nathan Gordon told Stateline of the distillery, which is owned by two tribal citizens, Curt Basina and his wife, Linda Basina.

According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Basinas were aware of the old ban on distilleries. But since they opened their business on non-trust land, the law that has since been repealed was not an issue as they secured federal approval to become a producer of spirits.

"If you go back in history, there was a prohibition against all alcohol on the reservation," Curt Basina told the paper. "Then that was mostly repealed except for a small section of the law that says there will not be any distilleries on reservation land. This is not reservation land, we own the title."

President Donald Trump signed H.R.5317 into law on Tuesday. The bipartisan bill passed the House on September 12 and the Senate on November 27.

The ban was imposed by Congress in 1834, during a time when the federal government was removing Indian nations from their homelands. It authorized the use of "military force" to destroy any distilleries on tribal lands.

Read More on the Story
Meet the Craft Distillers of Native America (Stateline December 11, 2018)
Bayfield distillery owned by tribal couple is a first (The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel November 23, 2018)

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