Indigenous Brewers Tackle Hops and History With Native Craft Beer

At breweries like Oklahoma City’s Skydance, even a visit to the taproom is a teachable moment.

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 one-year 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 .4% of craft breweries are owned by American Indians or Alaska Natives, compared with 93.5% by White owners. But places like 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,” says Jake Keyes, vice chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, who 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.”

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