It’s 11 a.m. on a Saturday, and beer drinkers line up out the door of Oklahoma City’s Skydance Brewing. They’ve come to toast the downtown taproom’s first anniversary with pints of special-release juicy IPA and snifters of one-off pastry stouts. The tipplers are doing more than just celebrating an occasion – they’re also tacitly acknowledging the place’s Native American heritage.

According to a 2021 audit from the Brewers’ Association, only 0.4% of craft breweries are owned by American Indians or Alaska Natives, compared with 93.5% owned by Whites. But places such as Skydance are proudly touting their culture, not only to differentiate in a crowded marketplace but also to tell the stories of their peoples.

At Skydance, patrons look up to see American Indian art, like the portrait of a warpainted Cheyenne Dog Soldier rendered by a local Iowa tribesman. They order the flagship Fancy Dance Hazy IPA, named after the popular powwow ritual, or the Rez Dog American Blonde. The Skydance “S” logo emblazoned on the windows, tap handles and glasses comprises two eagle feathers, a hallowed symbol of dignity in many Native American cultures.

“It symbolizes bringing people together,” said Jake Keyes, who is vice chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and launched Skydance out of a local brewing incubator in 2018. “Our culture has always been mysterious to a lot of non-Natives, because it was illegal for us to practice our culture for a long time. We were taught to not talk about it. Now we put the stories on the cans and start a conversation. It demystifies it, and that brings people together.”

Few things about Native Americans are more misunderstood than their relationship with alcohol. Although it was illegal for Indigenous people to even buy spirits until 1953 (20 years after Prohibition), the stereotype of the “drunken Indian” has endured. Even in more-sophisticated circles, beer is assumed to be a purely European import to the New World. But Natives on this side of the globe knew plenty about fermented beverages, from the Chicha corn beer of the ancient Incans to the Tiswin corn beer/wine brewed by Apache in parts of Arizona.

“That history is still being discovered,” said Shyla Sheppard, founder of Albuquerque’s Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. and a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota. “The idea of alcohol is not something foreign that was brought to us.”


Perhaps the most natural connection between Native culture and craft beer is the shared tradition of living off the land around you. That’s why Sheppard started the Native Land beer campaign, in which brewers throughout the country, regardless of ethnicity, put a local spin on a base recipe. (This year, it’s a Mexican lager.) Participants must donate proceeds to Native nonprofits and, on the can, acknowledge upon whose ancestral land they are located. As the campaign tagline says, “All beer is brewed on Native land.”

But American Indian history is only half the story that Keyes and Sheppard are trying to tell through their beer. The other part is the story of their present and future, showing Native youths that they can be successful entrepreneurs in any business.

“You can never count on somebody else to tell your story for you,” Keyes said. “If you want it told right, you’ve got to tell it yourself.”

Native American Brews to Know

Skydance Skoden


Oklahoma City

ABV: 9%

Description: Named for a Native slang term that means “Let’s go, then,” this rotating series of triple IPA pairs different hop combos to accentuate the juicy while de-emphasizing the kick of the high ABV.

Bow & Arrow Foederland


ABV: 6.3%


Description: A farmhouse ale sourced from local hops, barley malt and even the on-site peach tree and nearby lavender fields, this effervescent treat bubbles over with a funky fruitiness.

7 Clans Brewing Bended Tree Chestnut Brown

Asheville, N.C.

ABV: 5%

Description: Majority female-owned by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribe, 7 Clans models this malty brew after traditional sweet Cherokee chestnut bread.

Rincon Reservation Road Brewery’s Luiseño Hazy IPA

Ocean Beach, Calif.

ABV: 6.5%

Description: The Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians are considered the original Californians. The tribe, which owns 3R Brewery, thought enough of this dry-hopped hazy to give it the tribal name

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: