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Bipartisan bill rolls back 184-year-old law barring distilleries on Native American land

Mar 18, 2018
In The News

Lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill designed to roll back a 184-year-old law that prohibits distilleries on Native American land.

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“It’s time we move this outdated rule and allow tribes to pursue the same economic opportunity on their land allowed on non-tribal land,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement.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.”

The initial prohibition was passed June 30, 1834, by the 23rd Congress, and Section 2141 of the Revised Statutes was derived from that act.

Violators of the law faced a $1,000 fine.

“Every person who shall, within the Indian country, set up or continue any distillery for manufacturing ardent spirits, shall be liable to a penalty of one thousand dollars; and the superintendent of Indian affairs, Indian agent, or sub-agent, within the limits of whose agency any distillery of ardent spirits is set up or continued, shall forthwith destroy and break up the same,” the statute reads.

Herrera Beutler said the nearly two-century-old law has prevented the Chehalis Tribe from building and operating a craft distillery. The proposed project, the permitting process for which has already started, includes a brewery, craft distillery, and educational and restaurant facilities.

The educational and restaurant facilities will offer training and employment to members of the Chehalis Tribe.

“This is about jobs and giving more people a chance to earn a living,” Kilmer said in a statement. “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.”

Congress first passed legislation addressing the sale and consumption of alcohol on Native Reservations in the early 1800s.