Native American tribes get in on craft liquor boom as ban lifts
“It’s been an incredible growth engine for America,” Jarrett Dieterle, an alcohol policy expert at the free-market think tank R Street Institute, said of the craft spirits industry.
Restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol on Indian reservations date back to the early 1800s when President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 requested legislation barring alcohol on tribal lands, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. In 1832, legislation creating the commissioner of Indian affairs said, “No ardent spirits shall be hereafter introduced, under any pretense, into Indian country.” Two years later, the restrictions were expanded to include penalties for the sale of alcohol on tribal land and to prohibit the building of distilleries in Indian country.
Many of the laws regulating spirits on tribal reservations remained in place for decades, even after the 21st Amendment brought an end to prohibition.
“It was a chapter in American history where there was this distrust in Native Americans and their access to alcohol,” said Dieterle. “There were a lot of very patronizing laws passed.”
In the 1950s, Congress amended the 1834 statute to allow the sale and possession of alcohol on reservations but left the distilling ban in place. Leaving the prohibition intact, Dieterle said, has robbed Native American tribes of access to a “fountain of jobs.”
“Everyone has a brewery down the street, but no one stops and thinks why that’s a good and healthy thing and shows the dynamism of the American economy,” said Dieterle. “Spreading that to Native American tribes is a good thing.”