Regional and Local Briefs: May 2014

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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.