Harry Pickernell is the Chairman of the Chehalis Tribe in Washington state. When Harry was growing up, there weren't that many jobs near the Chehalis Reservation. And since the mid-1990s the tribe's revenue has been pretty dependent on one casino.
So a few years ago, Harry's tribe was looking to diversify, and they had an idea: Why not a distillery? Craft vodka and whisky was starting to blossom, and they wanted to catch the boutique distillery wave.
They partnered with an expert distiller. They had blueprints all drawn up, and a site was chosen, ready for construction. But then the Chehalis Tribe's attorney came rushing over with disastrous news: An old law from 1834 says that any distillery built on tribal land can be seized and destroyed by the federal government.
On The Indicator from Planet Money: How a tribe's economic prosperity was threatened by a racist law, and how that tribe fought back.
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