Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

High Court Says Cities Can Tax Tribal Lands

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

High Court Says Cities Can Tax Tribal Lands

Article excerpt

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that cities and counties can continue to assess teal estate taxes on parcels of land within an Indian reservation that were previously owned by individual tribal members or non-Indians and later repurchased by the tribe. The Court thus rejected the tribes' argument that the repurchase of reservation land by a tribe is sufficient to confer tax-exempt status.

The case before the Court, Cass County, Minnesota v. Leeh Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, No. 97-174, arose from the assessment by Cass County of real estate taxes on a number of parcels of land within the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Although the reservation comprises almost 600,000 acres, pursuant to federal legislation of the late 1880s much of this land was allotted to individual tribal members or sold to non-Indians for farming or lumbering.

By 1977, the Leech Lake Band and individual Band members owned only 27,000 acres (less than five per cent) of the reservation land.

Since then, however, the Band has purchased several parcels of land within the reservation. When Cass County continued to tax these parcels despite the Band's assumption of ownership, the Band sought a ruling in federal court that the lands it had repurchased could not be taxed.

In its decision on Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Band and in favor of Cass County. The High Court held that "when Congress makes reservation lands freely alienable, it is `unmistakably clear' that Congress intends that land to be taxable by state and local governments, unless a contrary intent is `clearly manifested'" by Congress. …

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