Plate makers: Tribal vehicle tag sales on rise; they're unique to Oklahoma
BY S.E. RUCKMAN World Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
7/31/07 at 1:32 PM
Slide show: Watch a slide show of Tribal vehicle tags.
The number of American Indian tribal
vehicle tags in Oklahoma -- the only
state in which they are issued -- is going
The Pawhuska-based Osage Nation
has issued about 10,000 -- a sharp rise
from 4,000 tags sold five years ago, said
Osage tax commissioner Mary Mashunkashey.
The era of tribal tags dawned when the
Stroud-based Sac & Fox Nation won a
1993 U.S. Supreme Court case against
the Oklahoma Tax Commission, claiming
that the state did not have a right to tax
tribal members through car tag sales.
More than a decade later, Oklahoma
remains the only state with Indian tribes
that issue car tags for its citizens.
Annual state tag fees range from $21 to
$91, depending on the number of years
the vehicle has been titled in Oklahoma.
But buying a tribal tag instead of a state
tag does not ensure that a car owner will
save money, said Mashunkashey, who also is chairman of the National Inter-tribal
Tax Alliance. "Sometimes the state has
better prices because they
lowered their prices a few
years ago," she said.
Only tribal members are eligible to purchase tribal vehicle tags.
The majority of revenue
generated from tribal tag
sales goes toward tribal budgets, although one tribe, the
Cherokee Nation, allocates
some of its tag revenue to outside parties.
The Cherokees have sold
253,832 tags since 2001 and
average about 40,000 tags a
year, said Sharon Swepston,
Cherokee Nation tax administrator. As the only Oklahoma
tribe with a state tag compact,
the tribe generated slightly
more than $7 million in tag
revenues in 2006, with more
than $2 million going to local
school districts, said tribal
Councilor Bill John Baker.
At the Muscogee (Creek)
Nation, more than 16,600 tribal car owners opted for the
telltale red car tag in 2006.
Creek car tag revenues for
2006 were about $1.5 million,
quarterly tribal reports show.
Dana Johnson, Creek Nation tax administrator, said
there are an average of 17,000
active tribal tags on the road.
An estimate on the total number of tags since the tribe began selling them in 1999 was
difficult because of varying
factors such as nonrenewal,
For the tribe that began the
tribal tag movement, the symbolism is important.
"We knew we (tribes) had
taxation rights as sovereign
nations. Our lands are exempt from state taxes, so our
citizens did not deserve taxation through state car tag
sales," said Sac & Fox chief
Kay Rhoads. "We proved we
are a sovereign nation."
The Choctaw Nation in Durant and the Chickasaw Nation in Ada are two tribes that
have opted out of issuing
tags. Officials with those
tribes said their members
range too far out of the tribes'
jurisdictional boundaries to
make the program practical.
Mashunkashey said a lack
of recognition of Osage plates
by law enforcement in other
states is rare. Tribal members
who live outside of the Osage
County jurisdiction, including
students and military personnel, have reported no problems with their tags.
"We have only found that
Florida does not recognize
tribal tags," she said. "There's
really no reason for a tribe
that wants to exercise its sovereign rights not to have car
tags," she said.
S.E. Ruckman 581-8462
Total number of tribal car tags sold
Cherokee - 253,832
Comanche - 4,000
Muscogee (Creek) - 17,000
Osage - 10,000