Shrinking Indian Country: A State Offensive to Divest Tribal Sovereignty
43 Pages Posted: 17 May 2013
Date Written: 1995
In Sac and Fox, the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) argued that the Sac and Fox reservation was disestablished in the 1891 Allotment Agreement, and therefore the tribe was deprived of a cognizable land base on which it could exercise governmental power immune from the reach of the state. Based on this characterization of the land base, the OTC then argued that it could reach into Sac and Fox land and impose income and vehicle taxes. The tribe, of course, rejected any such characterization of its land base and resisted any attempt by the state to interfere with its sovereign control over that land base.
To illustrate the states' offensive, this paper analyzes the legal dialogue involved in Oklahoma's suit to shrink the Indian country. The article will summarize first the background and procedural history of the challenge to the Sac and Fox. Then, the article analyzes the three elements used to construct the OTC attack on tribal lands - land characteristics, governance and activities on the land, and the people who use the land. Other actors entered the case, namely other states, other tribes, and the federal government, and so their viewpoints will be related to the bright-line argument between Oklahoma and the Sac and Fox Tribe. Like a Greek chorus in the classical dramas, these other actors voice viewpoints that illuminate the contemporary picture of states' campaigns to diminish tribal lands and sovereignty.
Finally, this article discusses the significance of these land-based attacks on tribal sovereignty concluding that when the three federal branches refuse to define, maintain, and implement the federal roles to protect the interests of contemporary tribes, the federal government, in effect, invites states to invade tribal lands and displace tribal governments. In fact, the legal discourse in Sac and Fox arose from more than the particular facts of the case. Rather, the case shows that similar actions by other states and the federal branches will promote the recurring state challenges to tribal sovereignty that require a vigilant response from tribal nations.
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