Yakama Indians versus alcohol
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Sun Dec 24 08:51:24 MST 2000
NY Times, December 24, 2000
Test of Indian Sovereignty and Government Resolve
By SAM HOWE VERHOVEK
HARRAH, Wash., Dec. 21 Jack Braden, a third-generation rancher in
Harrah, said it would be "plum crazy" to ban the sale of alcohol here in
the town where he was born and raised.
"They tried that in Prohibition," said Mr. Braden, 79, who stopped in the
other day at the Spur, a diner and tavern that dates to the late 1800's,
when federal officials opened up land on Indian reservations to non-Indian
homesteaders like his grandparents. "It didn't work then. And it wouldn't
But Jerry Meninick, the vice chairman of the tribal council of the Yakama
Nation, which oversees the vast central Washington reservation in which
Harrah and other towns lie, said he wanted the federal government to start
enforcing a long-ignored alcohol ban, however unpopular it may be among
"We fully understand that even in our own lands, we're now a minority of
the people," Mr. Meninick said. "But that doesn't in any way mean we should
rescind our efforts to deal with the pain of alcohol abuse in those lands."
Both men were describing a highly unusual dispute that is testing both the
limits of Indian sovereignty and the federal government's willingness to
enforce a statute that dates back nearly 150 years. For here, on an Indian
reservation where nearly 80 percent of the 25,000 people are not Indians,
the Yakama Nation is asking the government to help it carry out a
comprehensive ban on alcohol.
The ban was part of an 1855 treaty that the Yakama Nation, a confederation
of a dozen tribes that once held sway over a large part of the state,
signed with the federal government. Most white settlers never observed the
ban, but then the issue rose again earlier this year when the Yakama tribal
assembly voted, 142 to 129, to reaffirm the ban.
But since it technically took effect in September, that reaffirmation has
been roundly ignored by nearly all of the roughly four dozen taverns and
stores selling liquor that lie within the boundary of the 1.2 million-acre
Yakama reservation. The reservation is just south of Yakima, a city that
has a different spelling but derives its name from the same tribe.
Those stores sell alcohol to a mixed clientele that includes white
residents from families that have been on the reservation for decades;
Latino workers who make up an increasingly large part of the labor force in
the lush surrounding orchards and farmland; and Yakama Indians who belong
to the tribe that still claims dominion over the area and operates casinos
and a logging enterprise here.
Indian reservations make up nearly 2 percent of the land mass of the
continental United States, a far cry from 200 years ago, when Indians
controlled about three-quarters of that area, but still a significant swath
of geography. On many of these reservations, Indian tribes have broad
powers to enforce civil regulations, even for non-Indians, and many have
banned the sale of alcohol.
But what about a place where Indians make up such a relatively small
percentage of the population? That is the crux of the issue on the
Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/24/national/24YAKI.html
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