Bill Repealing Prohibition on Distilleries in Indian Country Moves to the President’s Desk >>

December 6th, 2018

Bill Repealing Prohibition on Distilleries in Indian Country Moves to the President’s Desk

H.R. 5317 (“To repeal section 2141 of the Revised Statutes to remove the prohibition on certain alcohol manufacturing on Indian lands”) repeals a portion of the 1834 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, which prohibits the production, sale, and trade of alcohol on Indian lands, among other things. The bill passed the House by voice vote on September 12th and passed the Senate on November 29th by unanimous consent. It now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

H.R. 5317 was introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) with bipartisan co-sponsors Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Denny Heck (D-WA), and Don Young (R-AK). Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sponsored the Senate companion bill, S. 3060, with bipartisan co-sponsors Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The 1834 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act requires the federal government to impose restrictions on the sale, exchange, or barter of spirituous liquors to Indians in Indian country. The Act provides that if any person constructs, or continues, a distillery for the manufacturing of ardent spirits in Indian country, the penalty shall be $1,000, and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall destroy the distillery. Most of the 1834 law remained in effect until 1953, when Congress passed An Act to Eliminate Certain Discriminatory Legislation against Indians in the United States. Under the 1953 law, the production and distribution of liquor is permitted in Indian Country, subject to the laws of the applicable State and Tribal ordinances.

Because some of the 1834 law remains in effect, it is uncertain whether the Federal Government would take enforcement action in Indian Country. This uncertainty has stymied investment in tribal businesses and prevented tribes from lawfully constructing and operating distilleries on their reservations. The repeal effort was led by the Chehalis Tribe of Washington, which is planning to build a tribally owned and operated craft brewery on its lands.

“There’s no place for laws that discriminate against our Native American communities and limit their economic opportunities,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell. “Getting this outdated law off the books is a crucial step to support entrepreneurship, economic development, and tribal self-determination throughout Indian Country,” she said.

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