Tribes Can Now Participate in the Distillery Industry


Tribes Can Now Participate in the Distillery Industry

December 13, 2018

This week, a bill repealing a law from 1834 that prevents tribes from building and operating distilleries on their lands became law. The bill, which passed the House in September and the Senate in late November, is the result of efforts by the Chehalis Tribe in Washington to discard an outdated, paternalistic law that kept the tribe from opening its own distillery. Tribes across Indian Country can now engage in the fast-growing distillery industry, which is estimated to be valued at $20 billion in the United States by 2023.

“This bill, that was just signed by the President, will remove an antiquated prohibition on distilling alcohol on Reservation lands, paving the way for tribes and tribal entrepreneurs throughout Indian Country. We can now fully participate in this economic development activity," said Chehalis Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr. “This would not be possible without the efforts of Jaime Herrera-Beutler in the House and Maria Cantwell in the Senate.”

The Chehalis Story

After the Chehalis Tribe began selling craft spirits and beer at a tribal restaurant in 2016, they started exploring the idea of producing and selling their own spirits rather than purchasing them from outside vendors. Shortly thereafter, the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed the tribe that a federal law, signed by President Andrew Jackson nearly 200 years ago, prohibited them from building their own distillery.

Undeterred, Chehalis began pushing for a repeal of the antiquated ban and found an advocate in Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler, the tribe's representative in the House. Not long after, Congresswoman Herrera-Beutler and Senator Maria Cantwell introduced legislation that passed both chambers of Congress this fall and was signed by the President on December 12. Now, Chehalis and other tribes can start participating in the booming industry on par with non-tribal enterprises.

Tribal Economic Impact

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, breweries, wineries and distilleries created the second most manufacturing jobs of any industry in 2017. Chehalis expects that their proposed distillery and brewery project would create upwards of 100 jobs, joining their other hospitality enterprises in bolstering the tribe's economy. 

Please contact Ryan Ward at or (202) 594-6593 if you have questions. 


Text of H.R.5317 - The Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act