PCI: Commission mistaken

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A three-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not impact the status of land held in trust by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, its tribal council members said this week. Escambia County commissioners announced Friday that they believe the 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar ruling states the federal government has no right to hold land in trust for Indian tribes not federally recognized by 1934. PCI was awarded federal recognition in 1984. In a Friday press conference, commission Chairman David Stokes said he is seeking an opinion from the secretary of the interior as to whether Escambia County could therefore receive tax money from the tribe. But according to documents provided by the PCI Tribal Council, the Carcieri decision “does not impact the legal status of the lands the United States has held in trust for the tribe for over 25 years.” The tribe’s statement says the Carcieri case, involving Rhode Island’s Narragansett Tribe, in fact says lands will not be held in trust for tribes not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. “The record in Carcieri showed only that the Narragansett were under formal guardianship of the state of Rhode Island,” the tribe’s statement reads. “In stark contrast, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, though not formally acknowledged until 1894, has a longstanding relationship with the United States. That longstanding relationship, tribal members said, warrants the ‘federal jurisdiction’ defined in the ruling.” But the Poarch Band of Creek Indians was “demonstrably under federal jurisdiction in 1934,” the tribe said, and therefore within the scope of the secretary of interior’s land- into-trust authority under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. “The Poarch Band of Creeks is an established legal and political successor-in-interest of the larger Creek (Muskogee) Confederacy and has an unquestioned longstanding relationship with the United States dating back centuries,” the statement reads. Four of the five county commissioners have stood behind the move to seek the interior secretary’s opinion. District 4 Commissioner Brandon Smith of Atmore disagreed. David Quarker, county commissioner for District 5, which includes the land housing Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, said he is sympathetic of the tribe’s situation, but has a duty to look out for the people of Escambia County. “I understand the tribe’s position and respect it,” Quarker said. “Their interest is to look out for the people of the tribe. My interest is to look out for the citizens of the county. If (PCI) can’t respect that, there needs to be some serious soul-searching.” During Friday’s meeting, Smith voiced his concerns over the matter, saying the commission and the tribe should have “sat down like neighbors” before a public hearing was called. Quarker said he had been involved in attempts to have an open relationship with PCI officials, but got no response to his efforts. “Brandon Smith said there had been no communication with the county and PCI,” Quarker said. “I agree with him on that. When I was elected, I went to two of the Tribal members and asked to attend their meeting just to introduce myself and let them know who I was. I got no response to that request.” Following Friday’s meeting, Smith again voiced concerns over the commission’s methods in handling the situation saying PCI has been good neighbors to Escambia County and the city of Atmore. Quarker said he, too, is appreciative of what PCI has done for the community but also believes “fair is fair” when it comes to paying taxes. “I appreciate their contributions to local schools, and I appreciate the job opportunities created in Atmore,” Quarker said. “But the county commission’s main concern is to ensure that PCI is paying their fair share in taxes.” Quarker said the issue is an important one and should be considered as such for everyone involved in the process. “This is a serious issue and there is no room for personal feelings or personal opinions,” he said. “Brandon let it be known he was against the commission pursuing the PCI tax issue. I support the commission in this process.” Quarker said the Friday press conference was handled in a way that allowed the public to be aware of actions being taken by the commission to preserve fair taxation for the county. “Everything we do is done open to the public,” he said. “This press conference was our time to let the public know where we stand on this.” Friday, Stokes announced his intention to send a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior “requesting a prompt decision by the Interior Department of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in response to the Carcieri (case).”

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