September 19, 2000 - Attorney General Christine Gregoire today filed a lawsuit asking that the Yakama Indian Nation be barred from enforcing its ban on the possession, distribution or sale of alcoholic beverages against non-tribal residents and businesses on the Yakama Reservation.
The suit, filed in the United States District Court in Spokane, asks the court to declare that tribal resolutions passed last spring banning liquor on the Yakama Reservation do not apply to non-tribal members. The suit also seeks a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the resolutions against non-tribal members. The effective date of the initial resolution was Sept. 17.
Gregoire emphasized the lawsuit does not challenge the tribe’s efforts to regulate alcohol among tribal members. "It is aimed strictly at whether the tribal ban can be imposed on non-tribal members," Gregoire said.
"Alcohol is the source of many problems in our society, and we respect the tribe’s efforts to address these problems head on," Gregoire said. "As well intentioned as the tribe’s liquor ban may be, we still believe the tribal government lacks the authority to impose such restrictions on non-tribal members who had no vote, no voice and no notice on the ban."
The decision to file suit today came after Gregoire received reports that Yakama tribal members in marked tribal vehicles had conducted surveillance activities against private citizens lawfully patronizing establishments licensed to sell liquor in Toppenish and Wapato on Sept. 18-19. She urged all citizens to remain calm and allow the courts to resolve the issues raised by the liquor ban.
Since tribal leaders took initial steps to regulate the possession, sale and distribution of liquor last November, state officials have held numerous discussions with tribal representatives. Those discussions were aimed at finding ways to work together to deal with alcohol-related
problems. The state also wanted assurances that the tribe would not enforce liquor restrictions against non-tribal members. Participants have included the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, state and local law enforcement agencies, local city officials and the state Liquor Control Board.
The state also has discussed the reservation liquor issue with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which the tribe has said it would look to for enforcement of the liquor ban.
"Despite cooperative discussions involving the tribe, the state and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we have been unsuccessful in getting the issues resolved," Gregoire said. "As a result, the state was left with no choice but to ask a court to settle these issues."
"While we regret the necessity of this action, we felt it was essential to remove the cloud of uncertainty that now hangs over non-tribal residents and businesses on the reservation. That is particularly true for the 47 non-tribal businesses—such as grocery stores, restaurants and taverns—that sell alcoholic beverages," Gregoire added.
Of the approximately 25,000 people who live within the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation, over 20,000 are non-tribal members. Approximately 20 percent of the 1.3 million-acre reservation is land privately owned by non-tribal and tribal members. The remaining 80 percent is held in trust by the United States for the tribe or individual tribal members.
Most of the privately owned land is concentrated in the northeastern portion of the reservation within the Washington cities of Toppenish, Wapato and Harrah.