It’s a decision that tribal officials felt they had to make. The Yakama Nation has decided to go dry, a first step toward addressing alcohol problems on the sprawling Washington reservation.
Some say the move was necessary to send a message about the ills of alcohol. But opponents fear that the ban could shut down businesses, cause a decline in tourism and increase unemployment, with non-Indians boycotting tribal interests such as the Legends Casino.
“The ban will definitely close us down,” said Joe White, owner of Joe’s Place in Wapato. “Of course, we all have bills and mortgages to pay on our places. . . . There will be some bankruptcies and businesses folding.”
Alcohol has long been banned on tribal land and at powwows, Yakama Nation ceremonies and the tribe’s casino and convenience store. The tribe voted Wednesday to extend prohibition over the entire 1.2-million-acre reservation, including private land owned by non-Indians.
“The act of going dry is symbolic,” Tribal Council member Jack Fiander said Thursday. “It’s a symbol that this is not the type of economy we want to see concentrated on the reservation.
“It’s sort of a symbol to the youth--we don’t think it’s cool anymore to use or abuse alcohol,” he added. “We’re trying to send an opposite message to what they see on rap videos and that type of thing.”
The ban, scheduled to take effect in six months, replaces an alcohol tax that took effect Jan. 4. The tax was intended to raise money for alcoholism treatment and drunken-driving enforcement programs.
The state was prepared to challenge the tax in federal court but dropped the matter after the ban was proposed.
State Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire said Wednesday that the new ban may pose just as many legal problems since it will apply to non-Indian businesses within the reservation.
Tavern owners who disliked the tax like prohibition even less.
“We’re going to fight it,” White said.
He said the tribe sold land to non-Indian people years ago when the Yakama Nation needed income, but “now that they have their casino and things going, all of a sudden they don’t need the revenue.”
For Gloria Crowder, a bartender at Little John’s Tavern in Toppenish, the ban could mean a lost job.
“Thanks to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, if we have to shut down, I’ll have to find another job and move away,” said Crowder, a single mother of a 16-year-old.
Alcohol is frequently cited as a major problem for some tribes in the United States. Tribes have taken various steps to curb alcohol-related problems, though the exact number of reservationwide bans was not immediately known.
Activist Russell Means last fall suggested opening a liquor store near South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is officially dry, and using the profits to treat alcoholism. The Blackfeet Tribal Council banned liquor sales in July on its Montana reservation for five days, suggesting that year-round prohibition might someday be an option.
Fiander said the Tribal Council recognizes the hardship that prohibition will have on businesses, and that’s why it won’t take effect for six months.
He also acknowledges that some businesses might be forced to close, but “we’re going to replace those businesses with the type of businesses we want to see for the future.”
“You can’t base your economy on selling cigarettes, alcohol and fireworks,” he said. “You can’t have a solid economy based on those types of fringe businesses.”