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Indians And Alcohol

Oneidas Move Ahead In Liquor License Quest

McKeon said under federal law, Indian tribes' sovereignty does not automatically include the right to sell liquor. Tribes can only do so if they follow certain procedures. They must first pass an ordinance to permit the trafficking of liquor. The ordinance must then be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. And finally, it must be deemed consistent with the laws of the state where the application is filed.

The Oneida Nation passed its ordinance several years ago, and it has been approved by the Department of the Interior, Reed said.

If all falls into place for the Oneidas, they will have something only a handful of bars or restaurants in Oneida County have: a space where patrons can both drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Just 20 waivers for the [New York] statewide smoking ban have been issued in the county, but the Oneida Nation is not subject to the law.

Restaurant and bar owners have blamed the ban, which was implemented in July 2003, for steep declines in their profits. Now they fear the Oneida Nation's resort complex will siphon away their smoking patrons.

"If we allow them to have a liquor, it's going to affect everyone from Syracuse to Albany," said Ralph Dittenhoefer, president of the Oneida County chapter of the New York State Restaurant and Tavern Association. "We will all urge the liquor authority to oppose or deny the license."

I'm mostly posting this because the regulations governing Native American alcohol sales were new information to me, and they contrast with the usual situation of tribes being able to get away with things (like selling tax-free cigarettes) that non-Natives can't. I would imagine that the provision was put in place because of just these sorts of conflicts -- situations in which you have two communities living side-by-side, with free movement of people and goods but potentially very different laws.

That said, it's interesting that bar owners are trying to use the liquor license process to correct the imbalance created by the Oneidas' tobacco-related freedom (exacerbated by additional state laws). This region suffers from chronic economic depression, but the Oneidas have been able to exploit their tribal status to create a comparative economic powerhouse (of only 5 Greyhound stops on the fastest route crossing upstate New York, one is Turning Stone). In a more successful region, there would be less standing resentment of the Oneidas from the surrounding community and less percieved threat to their well-being.


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