Indian Affairs Committee Passes Bipartisan Cantwell, Murray Legislation to Repeal Outdated 1834 Ban on Distilleries on Tribal Land

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously passed bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a current member and former Chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA) to repeal an outdated 1834 law that prohibits Native American Tribes from building and operating distilleries on their Tribal lands.

“Tribes in Washington, like the Chehalis Tribe, are moving forward with plans for a distillery to participate in the burgeoning craft liquor industry,” Senator Cantwell said. “There’s no place for this law that discriminates against our Native American communities and limits their economic opportunities.”

“We should be doing more to empower entrepreneurship for tribal nations, and repealing this nearly 200-year-old law is a great step forward,” Senator Murray said. “I urge my Senate colleagues to take this bill up immediately to allow the Chehalis Tribe and others to break ground on new and exciting projects that spur economic development.”

Washington state’s Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Tribe Reservation established plans to build a brewery with an attached restaurant and distillery on Tribal lands in Grand Mound, WA. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs warned the Tribe that the pre-Civil War law prohibited distilleries on Indian lands and that it would be unable to approve documents necessary for the Tribe to operate it. The 1834 law currently directs to Bureau of Indian Affairs to “destroy and break up” any distillery on Indian land. As a result, the Tribe chose to not begin construction of the facility until the issue is resolved.

"I am pleased that the Senate will consider this overdue legislation.  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. 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,” said Chehalis Tribe Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr. when Cantwell and Murray introduced their legislation in June.

The legislation introduced by Senators Cantwell and Murray is also sponsored by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

U.S. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Don Young (R-AK), Denny Heck (D-WA), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Betty McCollum (D-MN) passed identical legislation through the House of Representatives earlier this month.

For more information on the issue, read this New York Times opinion piece or this article from The Centralia Chronicle.

Here is video and audio from Senator Cantwell’s remarks at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing about the bill.