Most Read
Image 01 Image 02 Image 03

Congress poised to dump 184-year-old law barring distilleries on Native American land

Congress poised to dump 184-year-old law barring distilleries on Native American land

Tribal leaders want to tap into a growth industry.

In addition to gambling, American Indian tribes across the nation may soon be able to supply their own booze to customers.

A bipartisan measure designed to roll back a 184-year-old law that prohibits distilleries on Native American land has just been introduced in the House of Representatives.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., on Thursday and has bipartisan support from Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, Denny Heck, D-Wash., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

The legislation repeals Section 2141 of the Revised Statutes, the precursor to the U.S. Code, to “remove the prohibitions on certain alcohol manufacturing on Indian lands.”

“It’s time we move this outdated rule and allow tribes to pursue the same economic opportunity on their land allowed on non-tribal land,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “Economic empowerment for tribes, skills training for students and jobs for the community would add up to a win for Southwest Washington, and I’m pleased to partner with the Chehalis Tribe and my colleagues to help achieve it.”

This St. Patrick’s Day, I was enjoying some of San Diego’s best craft beer with friends, and we noted how successfully some of the breweries had spun off their own distilleries. Having enjoyed special tasting parties at the local facilities, which produce outstanding gin and vodka, it is quite understanadble that Native Americans would like to get into the business.

The move to repealing this legislation began when the Chehalis Tribe of western Washington state wanted to build their own brewery, and the project plans ran up against this law.

The Chehalis Tribe’s proposed project includes a brewery, a craft distillery and attached educational and restaurant facilities that will provide training and employment to tribal members. Employment opportunities will also be available to non-tribal members from Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor Counties – an area that encompasses multiple economically-lagging communities. The project would also incorporate brewing instruction and teaching distillery skills to college students in conjunction with their college courses.

…“This is about jobs and giving more people a chance to earn a living,” Rep. Kilmer said. “The craft spirits industry has given a boost to towns throughout Washington State. Repealing this antiquated law will ensure that tribes are treated equitably and enable tribal communities to create jobs for tribal members and non-members alike.”

As the Trump era of expanding employment opportunities continue, it is interesting to note that craft alcohol production is of the leading sectors hiring new talent.

…Over the past seven years, the breweries, wineries and distilleries sector has been adding jobs at an 11.1 percent annual rate, compared with 1.7 percent for nonfarm payroll employment as whole….

Part of what’s going on here is that Americans are drinking more alcoholic beverages while soft drink consumption has declined. But that can only explain some of the job growth. Alcoholic beverage sales in the U.S. rose 21 percent in dollar terms from 2010 to 2016, while employment more than doubled.

No, what’s really changed is how alcoholic beverages — beer and spirits in particular — are being produced. For a long time, both industries in the U.S. were dominated by a few giant players. Over the past decade, both have seen an explosion in new entrants.

It is easy to see why savvy tribal leaders would like to tap into this business, and why the repeal of this law is bipartisan. Good booze can bring everyone together.

And, for Senator Elizabeth Warren, the move may be timely. Perhaps she can distill a drink strong enough to steady her nerves in the wake of President Trump’s taunting.

On a personal note: Of all the measures that have ended under President Trump’s watch, this is my second favorite, after the nixing of the Paris Climate Accord.

[Featured image via YouTube]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Fire water!

    Paul in reply to snopercod. | March 19, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    I can see it now, another way for the Senator from Massachusetts to make a buck at the Indian’s expense.

    “Lizzie Warren’s Fire Water”

    They could do a revised printing of “Pow Wow Chow” featuring recipe and drink pairings.

    bear in reply to snopercod. | March 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Given the alcohol-abuse stats on reservations, if tribe members are employed, what are the odds that any spirits (Great or otherwise) will make it out of the distilleries, much less retail outlets?

    According to tribal members I have talked to in Oregon, the indian casinos studiously avoid hiring their own due to the required drug and alcohol screenings.

Just wondering how many variations of the words “fire water” will be on labels?

“Indian Paleface Ale”?

    OleDirtyBarrister in reply to alaskabob. | March 19, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    Perhaps and IPA named “Indigenous Paleface Ale” would trigger fewer people and avoid misappropriating anyone’s culture.

OleDirtyBarrister | March 19, 2018 at 3:29 pm

What could possibly go wrong?

    alaskabob in reply to OleDirtyBarrister. | March 19, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    Oh, just a reminder that alcohol and the lack of adequate P450 enzymes in the “indigenous peoples of the Americas” can lead to problems.

    Does consumption of firewater on Indian lands require excise tax? This could be a boon (more wampum) to the tribes if they can avoid that.

      OleDirtyBarrister in reply to alaskabob. | March 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      That is why I made my sardonic comment. The number of reported federal cases of alcohol related or induced crimes in indian country is astounding. There is tribal jurisdiction over the indigs as well.

      The number of child molestation cases on reservations is astonishing and sickening as well.

how about allowing home distilling as well?

i can legally make beer or wine, up to certain totals for the year, for personal consumption, but i can’t distill spirits the same way.

that’s just retarded.

I was interested to note that Tito Beverage, the first (legal) Texas craft distiller, made the Forbes roster of billionaires.

Now Texas has several distillers, and craft brewing is growing like a mushroom, and producing some really outstanding stuff.

So, does the Treasury collect on this stuff? Federal taxes don’t automatically apply in Indian territory. Any Federal legislative action is sure to make a big deal of this since government revenues from alcohol are yuuge.

Aside from the money, and chronic alcoholism problems among some populations (which has to do with alcohol, not with production of alcohol), and sucking up business from areas bordering Indian territory, the only obvious problem would be alcohol-fueled Indian raids, but we haven’t had a good homicidal Indian raid since about 1912.

Having lived and worked on Indian Reservations in the medical field, I am of two minds about this.

I well remember seeing signs in stores that sold alcohol as a child in New England that said “No liquor sales to Indians) – and being shushed by my Dad for reading it and asking him about it. It IS discrimination.

On the other hand, most of the tribes have huge rates of diabetes and alcoholism. One tribe on the Arizona border has a diabetes rate of 98% and almost everywhere it is 50% plus. Making things like alcohol forbidden has never done anything to combat that. After all, human beings always desire most that which they are told that they are forbidden to have, whether they are 2 or 102. (The same, BTW, applies to 18 year olds and beer.)

One thing that I particularly noticed was that there was exactly one major grocery store “chain” on the Navajo Reservation and it was nearly 100 miles into a larger town off the reservation. That store sold soda and candy bars at a fraction (about 1/4) of the price you would pay for them off reservation. Cigarettes of course were the same. At the same time a box of cereal that held just about 2 of those individual serving boxes of cereal ran to $7 or so (I would have gone broke trying to feed the kids the summer I had 6 teens all at once) and a pound of the cheapest bologna was also about $7. I drove that 100 miles round trip every payday to fill the back of the car with groceries from Sam’s Club. Sadly, many people on The Rez didn’t have the kind of transportation that allowed them to do that.

I would be very against that white-owned supermarket chain having permission to sell alcohol on the Rez. Their business practices over 100+ years certainly give some credence to the idea that there was a deliberate attempt to destroy the American Indian population. The tribes making their own? That’s a different ball game. We need to stop treating our American Indian population as children.

There is always and upside and a downside. I think the biggest downside is going to be the control of the liquor, whether or not it is made in homes or on the reservation. Making it incorrectly can cause people to go blind, etc. That’s fine if you are drinking it yourself, but if you are selling it or sharing it then it’s a problem.

As for the reservations, it’s not like making it illegal has stopped the alcoholism. Not sure how I feel about it, but agree we can’t treat them like children.

I will definitely buy me some Native American Spirits.

I recently came upon a journal where an official was complaining that one of my relatives may have given too much spirits to Indian leaders who were in Easton, PA to arrange peace treaties following the French and Indian War.
The official complained that some of the earlier Indians leaders were inebriated by a local spirits maker.

Yes there is high alcoholism on the reservations. There is high alcoholism in the ghettos, too. This is only one of the pathologies you get when you dump people onto government handouts for generation upon generation: the hopeless despair and overall lack of any sense of self-worth will do that to you.

I work in the pipeline industry. Sometimes we cross native lands with our routes, and we’ve had dealings with the tribes. We see this stuff, and we hear the tribal leaders and their counsels getting their people employed on our projects.* They desperately wanting to do more for their people than to just administer poverty.

* The Standing Rock activists got all the press. The Tribal Councils were furious about the other tribal members who were laid off from well-paying jobs while that whole mess played out. The press never showed any of that.

I used to work in Holbrook, AZ, smack in the middle of Indian territory. You know how supermarkets have racks of “impulse items” like candy bars lining the checkout lines? In Holbrook, the checkout lines had stacked boxes of Thunderbird and Tokay wine.