PCI: Interior says tribe is on protected land

Published 3:17 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians announced Wednesday that a letter sent Monday from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to the Escambia County Commission confirms the Tribe’s “trust land” is in no jeopardy of taxation from county or state government – effectively ending the dispute that began in early April with a public meeting held in Brewton.

According to the letter, sent by Acting Assistant Secretary on Indian Affairs Donald E. Laverdure, “the Band’s Reservation, including the portion of the Reservation that is situated within the geographical boundary of Escambia County, Alabama, is held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the Band. As such, the Band enjoys all rights and privileges associated with having its Reservation held in trust by the United States under federal law.”

According to a release from PCI, the letter is “decisively dismissing (the Escambia County Commission’s) contention that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ lands are not protected by federal laws. This letter shows that Chairman Stokes’ attempt to tax the Tribe’s trust lands is without merit.”

The letter from the office of the Interior comes after Stokes and the commission sent a letter requesting the secretary enforce a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling denying a Rhode Island tribe 31 additional acres of trust land. The ECC has since argued the precedent set by the case should dissolve land PCI currently holds in trust in Alabama, making the acreage taxable by local and state government.

PCI officials said the letter from the office of the Interior confirms the concrete protection their Tribal lands enjoy.

“Indian tribes are recognized several times in the United States Constitution. Most notably, the commerce clause acknowledges that tribes are considered separate, distinct governments as are states and foreign nations. Therefore, none of these entities, nor their lands is, subject to taxation by another form of government.”

Head of Tribal Affairs Robbie McGhee said he is glad to see an end to the ordeal surrounding the commission’s attempt to tax PCI land.

“It is unfortunate that Chairman Stokes did not attempt to sit down with the tribe before taking this action,” McGhee said. “His move by the commission has clearly strained our relationship. We have given the commission hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent on improving the county. We have paid millions in taxes and created thousands of jobs that employ county residents and add to the tax base. This was a short-sighted attempt on the part of the commission that we hope will not have a long-term effect on the relationship between our government and the county.”

Tribal Chairman Buford L. Rolin said PCI will continue to contribute to the City of Atmore, Escambia County and the State of Alabama.

“We are committed to being good neighbors to Escambia County and throughout the State,” Rolin said. “We are pleased to be able to continue to create jobs, contribute millions of dollars to the schools, provide fire protection, public safety and infrastructure improvements in Escambia County and serve as an economic driving force in Alabama.”