Legislation Repealing Outdated 1834 Ban on Distilleries on Tribal Land Headed to President’s Desk

Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation to repeal an outdated 1834 law that prohibits Native American Tribes from building and operating distilleries on their Tribal lands. U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a current member and former Chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the bill in the Senate, while Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) carried the bill in the House of Representatives.

The bill, which passed the House in September, now heads to President Trump to be signed into law.

“There’s no place for laws that discriminate against our Native American communities and limit their economic opportunities,” said Senator Cantwell, who also urged passage of the bill in a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing earlier this year. “Getting this outdated law off the books is a crucial step to support entrepreneurship, economic development, and Tribal self-determination throughout Indian Country.”

“For nearly 200 years this archaic law has been a barrier for tribal nations pursing economic freedom, and today’s vote brings us one step closer to finally sweeping it into the dustbin of history,” said Senator Murray. “This is a win for the Chehalis Tribe that will help spur new economic development, and I urge President Trump to sign this legislation into law as soon as possible to help empower entrepreneurship in other tribal nations in our state and around the country.”

“When the Chehalis Tribe first approached me about an antiquated law that prevented them from building a distillery on their land, it was clear that Congress needed to take action and repeal it in the name of fairness. I was pleased to partner with the Chehalis to craft, introduce and secure passage of this legislation in the U.S. House, and am grateful my colleagues in the Senate were equally successful in their efforts. Today we’re sending a common-sense, bipartisan bill to the president’s desk that removes a hurdle for tribes in Southwest Washington and across the country that was impeding them from pursuing economic opportunities that bring with them new jobs and skills training,” said Representative Herrera Beutler.

In 2016, Washington state’s Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Tribe Reservation began planning to build a brewery, with an attached restaurant and distillery, on Tribal lands in Grand Mound, WA. However, these plans were halted after the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) warned the Tribe that a pre-Civil War law prohibits distilleries on Indian lands and currently directs the BIA to “destroy and break up” any distillery on Indian land. This prohibition prevents the bureau from approving documents necessary for the Tribe to operate such a facility. As a result, the Tribe chose not to begin construction until the issue is resolved.

“The Chehalis Tribe would like to extend our most sincere thanks to Sen. Maria Cantwell, Congresswoman Herrera Beutler and Sen. Patty Murray and their staff for their leadership and commitment in securing passage of this legislation. HR 5317 repeals an antiquated federal law prohibition and promotes the current federal policy of tribal self-determination. Tribes around the country will now have the ability to move forward with projects to build and operate distilleries on their own lands. This is a great victory for the Chehalis Tribe and Tribes nationwide that seek to expand economic development opportunities on their own land,” said Chairman Harry Pickernell, Sr. of the Chehalis Tribe.

In the Senate, the legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-6), Don Young (AK-At Large), Denny Heck (WA-10), Tom Cole (OK-4), and Betty McCollum (MN-4) are co-sponsors of the House-passed legislation.

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