Jim Gray, principal chief of the Osage Nation: The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled against the Osage Nation’s contention that it has a federal Indian reservation and therefore its members living and working on the reservation should be exempt from paying state income taxes as defined by federal law.
view all photos This was a reckless decision. It departed from precedent, established new law based on opinions of a handful of historians and glossed over evidence.
Perhaps worst of all, it adds to the fear and misinformation circulating among some people. My hope here is to be very direct in what our intentions are — and are not.
In 1872, the Osage Nation moved to Oklahoma from Kansas and bought its land, which was established as a federal Indian reservation. The reservation status has never changed. In fact, President George W. Bush reaffirmed the Osage Nation’s reservation status by signing the Osage Reaffirmation Act in 2004.
Congress had specifically, with clear language, disestablished reservations both prior to and after the 1906 Osage Allotment Act, but purposefully chose not to do so in the Osage case. The Oklahoma Tax Commission failed to identify clear language in any act of Congress which supports its “disestablishment by allotment” claim.
There has been much concern among nontribal residents of Osage County about what changes may occur should the Osage Nation win its case. We believe this is due to the lack of understanding and complexity of federal Indian law.
Many nontribal residents fear the Osage Nation will tax landowners and businesses in Osage County. The nation does not have that authority. Federal law prohibits the exercise of any power by Indian governments over non-Indians on or off the reservation unless they enter an agreement with the nation.
Some feel they will be treated unfairly by the Osage Nation if it wins its case. That has not happened and will not happen. Osages and non-Osages have lived and worked together for a century. We depend upon one another, as do the Osage Nation and Osage County governments.
Others are worried that if the Osage Nation exercises its sovereignty, it will have a negative impact on how they are governed. The effects, if any, would be minimal. Multi-governance is nothing new to our society. We all live under federal, state, county and municipal law and we do so without chaos or rebellion.
We will seek reconsideration of this case as we cannot let this decision stand. By creating law and not following precedent, its own and that of the Supreme Court, the 10th Circuit has signaled every tribe with a reservation is at risk.
It is our hope the court will change its decision and follow established federal law. The future of all Indian reservations depends on it. And the state of Oklahoma is counting on millions of dollars in revenue generated by our reservation status. The Osage Nation’s success comes at no one’s expense. When the Osages prosper, Oklahoma prospers.