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Indian Times: IRS Going After Tribes (Jun 22, 2012)

The Associated Press reported that the Internal Revenue Service is apparently not recognizing tribal sovereignty by trying to tax government funded assistance such as housing, school clothes and burial aid that tribes give their members.   John Yellowbird Steele, chief of the Ogalala Sioux Tribe, spoke before a senate panel on Thursday.  He invoked the treaties between the United States and his South Dakota tribe as he criticized the IRS for what seems to be a stepped up effort to tax tribal assistance.  Chief Steele said the IRS wants to put a value on the cost of such services as fixing roofs and then tax tribal members for that service, but Steele said where will these same people find the money to pay the taxes the following year?  In written testimony Steele said “the IRS violates our treaties when it seeks to tax the basic government services that our tribal government provides our citizens.”  Steele said the tribal assistance helps members to raise their standard of living and in some cases survive.  South Dakota as a state is number one in unemployment, with reservation numbers faring even worse. Senator Daniel Akaka, Democrat from Hawaii, who chairs the committee on Indian Affairs, said providing for tribal members  is “truly critical to the self-determination of tribal governments.”  The IRS over the years has narrowed its tax exemptions for federally, state and locally funded social benefits for tribal members so that only those with significant financial need do not have to pay taxes on the benefits.  The agency has been meeting with tribes to develop and clarify rules on what is taxable under the General Welfare Doctrine, which governs whether the assistance tribal members receive should be counted as income and be taxed.  But while these meetings go on, Chief Steele said tribes are getting notices that they are being audited.  Steele went on to say that these audits are fishing expeditions and tribes are being asked to provide documentation on everything from employee pay to powwow prizes.   The IRS has also been reviewing per capita payments that tribes make to its citizens from trust money raised through tribal businesses.  Athena Sanchey Yallup, executive secretary of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation in Washington state, said the IRS is seeking to tax her nation’s distribution of earnings to their 10,400 members for the first time in history.   The IRS defended its work with tribes.  Christine Jacobs, Director of the Office of Indian Tribal Governments at the IRS, said the exemption for social welfare benefits is not in the federal tax code but is an administrative exemption.  She said to be excluded from taxes, benefits and payments must be made under a governmental program, promote the general welfare and not represent compensation for services.


Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, told the Associated Press that federal and state governments should provide voter registration at Indian Health Service facilities, just as they do at state-based public assistance agencies under the Voter Registration Act.  Keel, speaking at the mid-year meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Lincoln, Nebraska, said that only 2 out of every 5 American Indian and Alaska Natives eligible to vote were registered.  He said that came out to approximately 1 million natives who are not voting.  Keel said this should be considered a civic emergency for Native Americans as much progress has been made under the current Administration and tribes want to protect their sovereignty and their resources.  The Voter Registration Act was initially designed to reduce costs of voting registration by offering it to people when they applied for a drivers license and or applied for social assistance such as food stamps and disability services. The intention of the legislation was to encourage greater access to voter registration for the citizens who needed further assistance registering to vote.  By these standards,  Indian Health Service facilities should qualify.  And, Keel said, better turnout of Native American voters can make a difference in state elections.

The July/August issue of Oklahoma Today is the Indian Country issue and features stories on Oklahoma’s native american artists,  musicians, and educators as well as articles on places to visit such as Bacone College,  how to look up your geneaology at the Cherokee Family research Center in Tahlequah and also has a salute to the retired director and curator of the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Musuem, Towanna Spivey.   The magazine also has a lot of information on museums and upcoming native events and powwows.  If you’re wondering where to go and what to do this summer for your stay-cation and want to keep it native,  this edition of Oklahoma Today is a must read.


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