Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is calling for the repeal of an “antiquated” law that prevents tribes from operating distilleries. Given the support she received from the House Natural Resources’ Indian Affairs subcommittee during a hearing for HR 5317, Herrera Beutler may succeed.
“I’m pleased to put this bill forward to help place Indian tribes on equal footing with nontribal citizens by allowing them to pursue the same economic opportunities as everyone else,” Herrera Beutler said after Thursday’s hearing. “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. 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.”
Chehalis Tribal Chairman Harry Pickernell Sr. testified at the hearing before the subcommittee.
“Much of the tribe’s land is on the flood plain, and the tribe has very little land available for development,” Pickernell said. “The tribe operates a casino but is always looking for a way to diversify its economic base.”
The rule that Herrera Beutler’s bill would repeal is leftover from liquor prohibition rules set in 1834. Anyone who builds a distillery on tribal land faces a $1,000 fine and the government is directed to break up any operations that exist.
Pickernell testified that the rule has never been enforced, but it is impacting their ability to move forward with new development. He said the Chehalis Tribe partnered with the Great Wolf Resorts to build the first Great Wolf Lodge on tribal lands in 2008. The tribe is now planning to build a standalone brewery and distillery.
Construction of the development will employ about 100, Pickernell said. Once the businesses are open, between 30 and 40 full-time jobs will be available.
He said about 40 percent of the tribe is younger than 21 years old and will need jobs in the future. At the moment, the tribe has between 300 and 400 members of working age and only 160 jobs available through tribal enterprises.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said the project sounds like a great opportunity for not only the tribe but also the surrounding community.
“I hope we can take care of this as soon as possible,” Gallego said. “It sounds like a win-win.”
The hearing is open for the next 10 days to provide an opportunity for questions. A vote is not yet scheduled.