For those who have been wondering if a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding tribal jurisdiction means they don’t have to pay taxes, the answer is no; they still have to pony up. Furthermore, property owners who don’t have CDIB cards needn’t be afraid a native will seize their land.

The SCOTUS decision would seem to be clear — at least, for those who read the text of the ruling. But that hasn’t stopped the questions. And for those, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin and Stacy Leeds have the answers.

Leeds is a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice and dean emeritus of the University of Arkansas School of Law. She’s not considered just an expert in law, but also in tribal law. Last week, she pointed out what most folks following the case already knew: The decision is “narrow in scope,” and centered on criminal proceedings.

Because Indigenous nations are able to operate casinos even in states where gambling is technically “illegal,” most residents should understand that while tribes aren’t subject to state regulations, they are — like everyone else — obliged to follow federal law. It’s one of those elements of a “sovereign nation within a nation” that is simple on its face, yet complicated in the details. The case decided by the high court revolved around a man convicted of sexual abuse of a child. The subject argued that since neither Congress nor his tribe — and by extension, others in eastern Oklahoma — disestablished their “reservations,” he should have been tried in federal court, rather than state court.

No one is saying the man is innocent, or diminishing the severity of his crime; the issue was in which court he should have been tried. There’s also a question of how Congress should have dealt with situations such as this one. And practically everyone would agree Congress has failed, time and again, to address issues that ultimately will decide the fate of not just Americans in general, but tribal citizens in particular.

Hoskin has pointed out tribal leaders will need to work closely with congressional delegations to hash out the finer points of this ruling and all it implies. Cross-deputization of law enforcement agencies already has made great strides in the appropriate sharing of jurisdictions. Tribal judicial systems will need to be expanded, and that’s a good thing.

But the answer to that burning question on the minds of many locals, according to Leeds, is this: “All of these pieces of land that are already on the county tax rolls, those aren’t coming off. There’s already federal legislation that says after the allotment — after restriction is lifted from those lands — those lands become fully taxable.” So yes, native people who own land will still have to pay their taxes to the usual authorities, and non-natives who own land within tribal boundaries will continue doing the same.

Now as far as income taxes, that could open a new can of worms, according to Leeds: “If people are receiving all of their income inside of their own tribe’s jurisdiction — there’s probably a very strong claim that the state has no taxing authority over that piece of activity.” That matter, say Leeds and Hoskin, will require cooperation among governmental authorities.

Anyone who stands back and looks at this court decision would have to agree it is right, and ultimately, it will benefit all Oklahomans — just as the casinos have boosted state coffers, and just as the tribes’ contributions to schools and roads have been invaluable. It’s time to trust that the “right decision” is right for all of us. Oklahomans have nothing to worry about.

~ Tahlequah Daily Press

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