County seeks taxes from Poarch Creek Indians

Published 3:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012

Escambia County Commissioners are beginning a legal process that could eventually put more tax revenue into the coffers — but that move would mean the Poarch Band of Creek Indians would have no land in trust.
In a press conference held by commission officials Friday, Chairman David Stokes said the county has sought and obtained preliminary legal advice concerning the impact of a three-year-old Supreme Court decision and how it relates to developments on rights and obligations as a commission.
“On Feb. 24, 2009, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Carcieri vs. Salazar, tossing out everything we thought we knew about the legal status of Poarch Creek Indian lands,” Stokes said. ‘In that the decision, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the federal government has no legal authority to take land into trust for any Indian tribe that was not a recognized tribe under federal jurisdiction by 1934.”
Stokes said the 2009 decision of the Supreme Court came much to late too for Poarch Creek Indians to have protected land.
“The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984 — 50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside by the federal government,” Stokes said. “The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has spent the last three years actively lobbying congress in Washington, D.C. for a so-called Carcieri-fix.”
Stokes said he understood the position of the Tribe but felt it was the duty of commissioners to work for the people they serve.
“We intend to fulfill our obligations and stand up for the rights of the citizens and businesses of our county to equal protection under the law,” Stokes said. “All who owe taxes should pay taxes. It’s only tax-fairness we are seeking.”
The taxes sought by the county would include, but are not limited to, property tax and other taxes associated with business conducted by the Tribe.
Stephanie Bryan, vice chairman for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said the press conference revealed a surprising step being taken by the Commission.
“We are shocked and appalled,” Bryan said. “Why couldn’t we sit down at the table to discuss this like neighbors?”
Several members of the administration of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were present at the press conference — sitting silently as they listened to the information Stokes revealed.
Attorney Bryan Taylor, who was sought by the commission as counsel in the process, was also on hand to help address questions concerning the impact the steps taken by the commission may have.
“This time frame for this process is uncertain,” Taylor said. “It could take 15 days, three months or we could get no response from the Secretary of Interior in our request for a prompt decision in the matter.”
Stokes said a letter to the Secretary of the Interior would be drafted and submitted quickly.
“We are requesting a prompt decision by the Interior Department or the Bureau of Indian Affairs in response to Carcieri so that we as a county commission can make the best decisions for Escambia County on behalf of all the people we serve.”