An Examination of Prejudice in Federal Indian Liquor Prohibition: "Matter of Heff" As a Case Study

Federal Indian Alcohol Prohibition reflected dominant society views of native cultures and Indian drinking behaviors that were the product of pre-existing prejudices. The policies and statements of federal policy makers belie deep-seated beliefs about Indian inferiority. Federal policy makers thus justified restrictions on citizenship and other individual rights to native people based upon this "weakness."

The Supreme Court case "In re Heff' granted Indian citizens the theoretical right to purchase liquor off of reservations. Reactions to this decision exposed the prejudices of policy makers of that era. The laws and court cases that arose out of the Heff case resulted in the narrowing of Indian citizenship and increasing federal control over many aspects of tribal life.

An examination of the language of court cases, legislation and reform speeches between 1897 and 1916 shows the prejudiced assumptions from within which federal policy makers considered alcohol prohibition. This study examines the roots of prejudice toward native persons by studying the language of federal policy makers. Federal Indian Alcohol Prohibition reified this prejudice into the language of the law. The political and individual definitions of Indians constructed in the reactions to the Heff case still serve as a basis for consideration of present Indian legal and political issues.


Robert Allyn Stafford


Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox





Arizona State Museum: 

M9791 S774e
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences