Courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler
Southwest Washington congresswoman says tribes are being prevented from pursuing economic development through an antiquated law drawn up 184 years ago
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s bill seeking a repeal of the 1834 prohibition of distilleries on tribal lands received a hearing in front of the U.S. House Natural Resources’ Indian Affairs Subcommittee Thursday.
The Republican congresswoman from Battle Ground used her time in front of the microphone to tell lawmakers the ban is antiquated, unfair and overdue for repeal.
“The prohibition was enacted at a time when the federal government took a more paternalistic stance with the Indian tribes,” she said, “and while many of the provisions in the larger statute have since been repealed, somehow the distillery prohibition remains.”
The impetus for her proposed legislation is a project by the Chehalis Tribe at the northern end of the 3rd Congressional District where tribal leaders are pursuing an economic development that would include a distillery, brewery, restaurant and educational training facility on reservation land.
Herrera Beutler said the tribe was notified of the 1834 law by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which suggested the project be moved off tribal land or that the tribe pursue a legislative remedy.
She said she simply wants to help place the nation’s tribes on equal footing with non-tribal citizens who are not shackled by a 184-year-old law.
“This repeal enables tribes to diversify their economic investments and helps provide jobs not just for tribal members but also for neighboring communities,” Herrera Beutler said. “This is a matter of fairness, quite frankly, and Washington D.C. shouldn’t be in the business of telling Indian country it cannot engage in business that’s allowed everywhere else and is actually helping many neighboring areas revitalize their local economies.”
Herrera Beutler, who also placed a letter of support from the National Congress of American Indians on the record during the hearing, said her bill includes no special treatment for tribes.
“It’s encouraging that it’s advancing in Congress; it will be a win for the Chehalis Tribe when it’s allowed to build a distillery, brewery, restaurant and educational training facility on its own land,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release after her testimony. “And it’ll be a win for Southwest Washington when we remove this 1834 law because this project will bring more than 100 jobs to our region.”
The bill has bipartisan support, according to Herrera Beutler.