Attorney: New tribal case could impact PCI

Published 6:00am Saturday, September 29, 2012

An argument over the land trust rights of a New York Indian tribe is once again putting the case at the center of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ legal battle with the Escambia County Commission in the federal spot light.  But Poarch officials say that, despite efforts to make it appear so, the other tribe’s legal issues have nothing to do with them.

Earlier this week a federal court in New York ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to reconsider the federally protected trust status of the Oneida Indian land because of the precedent they claim was set by the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Carcieri v. Salazar case.

Last spring, the Escambia County Commission, under the advisement of attorney Bryan Taylor, appealed to the Department of the Interior claiming the Carcieri ruling clearly lays out that no Indian tribe not federally recognized in 1934’s Indian Reorganization Act is entitled to tax-free trust land like those held by the Poarch tribe. Poarch was officially recognized in 1984.

While the secretary of the interior reinforced PCI’s trust status in a letter to the commission, Taylor said the response failed to answer the commission’s questions.  Earlier in the week Taylor also said the New York case “could give even more legal ammunition to efforts to tax the Poarch Creek Indians in Alabama.”

In a press release from his office, Taylor said the New York court claims the Department of the Interior has failed to consider the impact of the Carcieri ruling on the trust lands of the Oneida tribe.

“Earlier this year, the Interior Department similarly failed to provide such an analysis to the Escambia County Commission in response to questions about the validity of the tax-exempt status of Poarch Creek lands and business operations,” Taylor said in his release. “Instead, an Interior official wrote a terse letter back to the commission without any of the legal analysis requested by the commission.”

Robert McGhee, PCI treasurer and councilman, said he was not aware of the specifics of the Oneida case, but said the situation has nothing to do with anything currently happening with PCI.

“This may be another case of Bryan Taylor trying to tax PCI,” McGhee said. “I don’t know what his interest is, he doesn’t work for anyone in the state. But this has nothing to do with us.”

The New York court requesting the lands’ status be reconsidered said the decision should be a simple one.

“The operative question is whether the tribe in question was federally recognized and under federal jurisdiction in 1934 as opposed to whether the tribe was federally recognized and under federal jurisdiction at the time of the trust decision,” the New York federal court wrote. “Such a jurisdictional analysis is clearly absent from the ROD (Record of Decision by the Interior Department).”

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