Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Soverign Nation can't be taxed

Do you imagine that it is those who complain most about having to pay more in taxes for better services who are perhaps the same ones cursing under their breath about this decision?

I applaud the Sioux for the ruling in their favor by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I hope that the tribal government uses their land wisely and in accord with their Native Tradition--land is sacred, hallowed ground.

From today's Star Tribune:

Shakopee Sioux tribe wins right to put more land in trust
Scott County, which stands to lose millions in property taxes, has a month to appeal the latest Bureau of Indian Affairs ruling.

By Anthony Lonetree, Star Tribune

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, owner of Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, has regained the upper hand in its quest to develop hundreds of acres of land without having to heed local zoning and land-use rules.

The central office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which last year withdrew a decision by its Midwest office that would have let the tribe move 752 acres from the property-tax rolls and into a tax-exempt trust, has decided that the local office was right, after all.

A tribe need not be poor, the BIA wrote last week, to gain full control of land the BIA says will create housing and, in turn, support "the continuation of Dakota language, ceremonies, spiritual beliefs, traditions and tribal values."

The BIA's approval usually would be all a tribe would need to get earth-movers moving, but the tribe now is awaiting Scott County's decision on whether to appeal -- action that it must take within the next month.

"It is a pretty important decision," County Administrator David Unmacht said on Wednesday. He had yet to decide what his recommendation to the County Board might be.

For years, the county, with the support of Minnesota's governors and the city of Shakopee, has sought to negotiate a compromise with the tribe that would put fewer acres of land it has acquired into trust.

But tribal Chairman Stanley Crooks long has argued that the tribe, as a sovereign nation, should have unfettered use of its lands.

While it pursues the land-use freedoms that trust status provides, the tribe has left the four parcels undeveloped as it awaited the BIA's action.

Two years ago, when the county argued its case to the BIA, the undeveloped parcels had generated about $65,000 a year in property taxes. But local jurisdictions stood to lose an estimated $2.9 million a year in revenues, the county said, if the tribe were to develop the land as proposed and if the land were no longer subject to taxation.

In addition to the housing, the Sioux community also has plans to develop a new cultural center and powwow grounds, among other projects.

Long time coming

In recent years, BIA decisions in support of trust applications have become almost routine elsewhere in the state.

But the Shakopee community's proposal differed because its holdings were in one of the nation's fastest-growing counties and because in 1998 the BIA had rejected a previous trust application that involved 593 acres of the 752 acres in the current application.

The BIA's regional director argued in 1998 that the tribe's standing as one of the country's most successful Indian enterprises was proof it did not need the benefits that having land in trust could bring.

But in his letter last Thursday to chairman Crooks, Carl Artman, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, noted that recent rulings by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals have held "that a tribe need not be suffering financial difficulties to 'need' more land."

Asked about the BIA's latest and, in Artman's words, "final" decision, William Hardacker, the Sioux community's legal counsel, said he had to consult with tribal leaders before commenting. He did not respond in time for publication.

But, "obviously," Hardacker did say, "we're happy."

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