Think taxation is theft? Try being an Indian tribe

Washington collected over $40 million in taxes from non-Indian businesses at Quil Ceda, while Tulalip collected none

Adam Crepelle 

Nobody likes paying taxes, but at least the collecting government provides services to those from whom it collects. This is the dividing line between taxation and theft. Viewed in this light, it is hard to see state taxation of Indian reservation economic activity as anything other than theft. The recently decided Quil Ceda case illustrates this point.

The Tulalip Tribes transformed an undeveloped tract of land on its reservation into a bustling commercial center. Quil Ceda is no ordinary reservation enterprise—the tribe had it incorporated as a municipal subdivision granting it the same status as Washington, D.C. Moreover, Tulalip built the road to and provides all the governmental services within Quil Ceda. Nevertheless, the State of Washington and Snohomish County want to tax Quil Ceda.

Despite the state and county providing virtually nothing to Quil Ceda, the court upheld their taxes on Quil Ceda. The court’s path to its decision is troublesome. Quil Ceda's status as a federal municipality was glossed over, but this should have weighed heavily against the imposition of state and county taxes. Likewise, the court ruled states and counties have a stronger interest in taxing on reservation commerce than tribes.

Remarkably, the court used the Tulalip Leasing Act — which Congress enacted to give the Tulalip greater control over its reservation — as a sword against Tulalip. The court curiously reasoned that the federal regulatory rollback paved the way for greater state intrusion into tribal affairs. This makes no sense.

Tulalip's hands off approach to private business management was also used to justify state and county taxation. Neither the state nor county runs private businesses in their jurisdictions. Reservations often struggle to attract private businesses because tribal governments often seek an active role in their operation. Tulalip's embracing a laissez-faire approach to business aligns with the United States policy towards business as well as traditional tribal economic practices. A tribal government's choosing not to micromanage on reservation businesses should in no way justify state taxation.

Quil Ceda's financial success was another reason the court decided to uphold the state and county taxes. This begs the question, would the state and county taxes be invalid if Quil Ceda was in poor financial shape? The fact that Quil Ceda has been able to thrive in a state and county that are hostile to tribal interests is a testament to Tulalip leadership.

Although the state and county provide a miniscule amount of services to Quil Ceda, the court claimed that Quil Ceda benefits from the taxes because these governments provide schools, cops, and infrastructure off the reservation. People who shop and work at Quil Ceda benefit from these services; hence, the state and county taxes are warranted according to the court.

Abolitionist Lysander Spooner famously wrote the robber is nobler than government because the robber "does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit." In 2015, Washington and Snohomish County collected over $40 million in taxes from non-Indian businesses at Quil Ceda while Tulalip — which provides all the municipal services — collected none. The Washington and Snohomish County levies at Quil Ceda fly across the line between taxation and theft.

Two solutions exist. One is Tulalip should assess taxes off the reservation. Following the court’s rationale, thousands of individuals would not be in Snohomish County but for the environment Tulalip has created. If the state and county can legitimately tax on reservation activity with a minimal nexus to either government, it is difficult to explain why Tulalip should not be able to tax off reservation commerce that is a direct result of Tulalip enterprise.

The other option is elect more American Indians to Congress. A record number of American Indians are seeking public office this November. More American Indians in Congress will help make the federal government realize that tribes are nations and not cash cows for states and counties.

Adam Crepelle is an attorney and a visiting professor at Southern University Law Center. He is a member of the United Houma Nation and practices law in New Orleans.

Comments
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JackBilly71TL
JackBilly71TL

$21 TRILLION dollars in a USG Federal deficit and growing - thanks to Obama $ 9 TRILLION, GWBush $7 TRILLION, and now growing interest rates (where 2008-2016 interest rates were near 0.00%), native tribal gubbermits and Casino-driven Tribal Corporate Governments, will now have to start TAXING their constitutes, membership rolls. How will the USG afford to provide more federal appropriations to supposedly "what is needed"? Only two things in life for sure: death and taxation. Already now, progressive democrats are TAXING you in death!

blu2cloud
blu2cloud

The taxation system is robbery that was brought over here the English system. The were very used to robbing and enslaving the poor of their countries. I believe that all the tribes must research and assess each and every foot of area of land taken by Europeans. What they did to take it, how they took it, means that were used to do it, how long it took, how many Native lives they butchered to do it, what documents were used to rationalize & justify it, and other ethnic cleansing used for them to have it for their own. This is their legacy and it should follow them to the future generations for as long as humankind exist. But for now, all the data gained from a research & study of each individual tribal area taken should be used to account financially how much is owed to each member of that tribe from each and every entity that has illegally gained monetarily from our losses. This should be done by every single indigenous tribe across the lands of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Philippines, Samoan Islands, Caribbean Islands, etc., etc. Sure, we may never see a cent but we must do it for hypothetically for symbolic and historic reasons. If there happens to be enough evidence, then possibly take it to a world court. But this is a testament to their actions upon so many indigenous people that they have been living off of for over 500 hundred years. The big shots in the oil, diamond, banking, timber and other industries should be paying us a share, instead of share holders, for their taking our resources by illegal means. This financial study in losses to indigenous peoples throughout the word should be done immediately as believe it, they are going to attempt to take the lands left from us in any manner they can find. Not only should we start the campaign but we should connect with Mexican Indians to the south, Maori, Samoan, Africans, Australian, Canadian Indians.