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Regional and Local Briefs: May 2014
Thursday, May 01 2014
 
Written by The Circle Staff,
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MINNESOTA SEIZES TRIBE'S CIGARETTE SHIPMENT

WALKER, Minn. – On April 18, agents from the Minnesota Department of Revenue intercepted and seized a shipment of cigarettes from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska bound for a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe gas station in Walker.

According to the department, the delivery was stopped in St. Cloud and contained 281 cartons – 2,810 packs – of cigarettes that had been manufactured in Nebraska and sent to the Minnesota band, unstamped and free from the state's cigarette tax.

In a statement, Leech Lake officials called the incident “the Good Friday Seizure,” calling it “yet another attack on Native American rights. The Band sees this seizure as an attempt by the state to implement its unfair taxation plan on the lands of the Leech Lake Reservation, this time resulting in the unfortunate economic isolation of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe.”

If the shipment made it to its destination, cigarettes would have sold for $3.50 a pack.

For the state, the seizure was an issue of tax fairness and is withholding the state tax equity revenue it normally splits with the tribe for its sale of other state-taxed items like sales, gas and alcohol until the band agrees to start selling state-taxed cigarettes again. Losing that shared tax revenue could cost Leech Lake $2 million or more a year, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said.

Ten of the state’s 11 tribes agreed to sell only state-taxed cigarettes, Frans said his department has worked with Leech Lake for years to try to reach a similar deal. Leech Lake Chairwoman Carri Jones said in a statement the tribe tried to work with the state.

“Every time the Minnesota Department of Revenue requested a meeting on this issue, we came to the table to meet in good faith to offer innovative and creative solutions, which were consistently turned down by the state,” she said in the statement. “We were hoping that by engaging in good faith negotiations we would avoid the drastic measure that Gov. Dayton’s administration took on Easter weekend.”




HO-CHUNK NATION SEEKS ROAD GRANT FOR CASINO

BELOIT, Wis. – The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin is supporting a road grant request for its proposed off-reservation casino.

The tribe wants to build a casino in Beloit. The city applied for a grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program to make road upgrades near the site.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is preparing an environmental impact statement for the project. If it's approved, the state governor will have veto authority under the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The site in Beloit is about 50 miles from the tribe's nearest gaming facility in Madison.


NORTH DAKOTA TRIBES SEE WATER USE TIED TO FRACKING

BISMARCK, N.D. – According to citizens of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, trucks have been spotted draining water from temporarily filled ditches along U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs roads.

Their intended use for the water and their right to take it come into question. What the tribe can do about it also is questionable. According to the tribe's environmental director, Edmund Baker, reports of the trucks taking water in the Mandaree area began when he started his position a year ago. He added that one oil well takes 7 million gallons of water to drill and maintain and that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 wells on the reservation.

From an environmental perspective, the concern lies in the displacement of water from natural runoff, he said. The problem is not being addressed now, but may be in proposed tribal water codes. Baker said the boom happened so fast the tribal regulation structure is struggling to catch up. Water codes are being developed for the tribe by a Native American law firm, Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan.

For the first couple of years of the boom, the state also struggled to keep up, Dan Farrell, N.D. Water Commission Water Appropriations Division said.

In the state, companies are able to use natural water bodies as a source for water if they have a permit. Tribal lands are separate from state-controlled land.


COURT RULES SOUTH DAKOTA PRISON BAN ON TOBACCO UNCONSTITUTIONAL

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 25 that a tobacco ban in South Dakota prisons violates Native American inmates' constitutional rights.

The decision affirms the ruling of South Dakota District Judge Karen Schreier, which was appealed by the state’s Department of Corrections last year. The ruling means the Department of Corrections cannot ban tobacco altogether in South Dakota prisons.

Under a plan approved by Schreier last fall over Department of Corrections objections, inmates may use a mixture of red willow bark and 1 percent tobacco in sweat lodge ceremonies. It restricts which inmates can carry the mixture to the ceremonies and allows prison officials to punish those caught using or bartering tobacco outside the ceremony by barring them from participating for one year.

The inmate advocacy group, Native American Council of Tribes, praised the ruling. The council’s legal challenge started in 2009 when the department rescinded its religious exception to its tobacco policy. The department could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask for a review by the full Eighth Circuit.


THREE AFFILIATED TRIBES REPORT OIL TAX BOON

NEW TOWN, N.D. – The Three Affiliated Tribes reported on April 23 at the tribe's Oil and Gas Expo that since July, the tribes collected $184 million in oil tax revenue, which it says will go toward infrastructure development.

The jump in revenue is due to increased oil production at Fort Berthold, which now produces more than 270,000 barrels per day and accounts for nearly 30 percent of North Dakota’s oil production. Tribal Chairman Tex Hall said Wednesday if the Fort Berthold Reservation were a state, it would be the seventh top oil producing state in the country.

The tribe plans to spend $100 million to improve roads on the reservation that have experienced heavy truck traffic. In addition, the tribe is planning $100 million for a proposed bridge project and $65 million in housing for medical staff as its clinic expands to a 24-hour ambulance service in response to an increased number of accidents, Hall said.

According to the North Dakota State Treasurer, the Three Affiliated Tribes collected $188 million in oil tax revenue from 2011-13. Since July 1, the tribe has already collected $184 million in oil tax revenue. In addition to the gain in revenue from increased oil production, the tribe is now getting a larger share of oil tax dollars resulting from a new tax agreement with the state.

Previously, North Dakota received 80 percent of some of the oil tax revenue while the tribe received 20 percent. An agreement reached at the end of last year’s legislative session changed the split to 50-50. Projections put revenue at $80 million from 2013-15 as a result of that arrangement.

The tribe is holding public meetings on the proposal and has received concern from Twin Buttes community members about the potential for increased crime, Hall said. The tribe also plans to spend $50 million on a rail spur and site development for a rail-loading facility and diesel refinery near Makoti. Thunder Butte Petroleum Services CEO Richard Mayer said the rail-loading portion of the project is expected to be complete in September with the refinery scheduled to open in spring of 2016.


WYOMING TRIBES SHARE $157 MILLION TRUST SETTLEMENT

CASPER, Wyo. – The Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming are sharing in a $157 million trust fund settlement.

The settlement covers a portion of a long-running case involving mismanaged trust assets and trust funds on the Wind River Reservation. The tribes have been in court since 1979 and have resolved different parts of the dispute.

Both tribes are distributing 85 percent of their portion of the settlement on a per capita basis. Each citizen of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe will receive about $15,000 while each citizen of the Northern Arapaho Tribe will receive about $6,300.

The Eastern Shoshone checks are being held up due to a political dispute that affects the council. The Northern Arapaho checks were mailed in late April.


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