January 31, 2001
Local Organization Files Briefs With Supreme Court in Case With National Ramifications.
Proper Economic Resource Management (PERM) is a Minnesota based non-profit conservation club dedicated to balanced solutions to natural resource management issues. As Native American Indian tribes across the country seek to assert and expand the scope of their governmental powers, they are increasingly taking actions that impact the rights of individual citizens, and the powers of state and local governments to enforce environmental regulations.
One such dispute has made its way to the highest court in the land. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of the Federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals called Atkinson Trading Company v. Shirley. The issue is whether or not an Indian tribe can impose a tax on a business transaction between non-members of the tribe on land that is privately owned by a non-member. The Navajo Tribe enacted a hotel occupancy tax on all such businesses operating within the exterior boundaries of their reservation. Atkinson Trading Co. refused to collect the tax because the property upon which they operate their business is non-member fee land. The Navajo Reservation, like most Indian reservations across the country, is to a varying degree, a mix of non-Indian owned fee land, Indian owned fee land, tribally owned fee land and land held in trust by the United States for the tribe. Thus, as of 1990, at least half the residents living on Indian reservations in the U.S. were not members of the tribe.
PERM argued in its brief that, "The people of the United States cannot properly be made subject to an inherent tribal regulatory power for their activities on fee owned lands. Put another way, the ultimate sovereign, the people of the United States, cannot be made subject to regulation by tribal governments which do not, and cannot by their nature, provide non-members the fundamental rights guaranteed to the people of the United States by the United States Constitution."
According to Mark Rotz, PERM chairman, "Jurisdictional disputes on issues of environmental regulation, taxation and zoning authority are popping up across Minnesota and the nation for citizens living on or near former or existing Indian reservations. The power to tax is the power to regulate. Environmental regulation must be carried out by public agencies controlled by publicly elected government, not quasi-sovereign Indian tribes that cannot be held accountable. For example, we have a supporter from Grand Portage, MN who is being sued by the tribe because he refused to allow the tribe to regulate him on his private property through their environmental zoning ordinances. PERM is committed to protecting our republican form of government in which true sovereignty is held by all the people."
For more information about PERM or this issue, please contact Mark Rotz at (763) 441-6869 or visit the PERM web site at www.perm.org .