Arguments set today in Osage land case
BY ROBERT BOCZKIEWICZ World Correspondent
Monday, January 11, 2010
1/11/10 at 4:17 AM
DENVER — Oral arguments are set for Monday in a federal case that pits the Osage Nation against non-Indians in Osage County and against the state of Oklahoma.
The Osage Nation is asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that Osage County and what the tribe considers to be the Osage Indian Reservation have the same boundaries. The county is Oklahoma's largest in land area.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission contends the tribe's intentions may include applying its taxes and laws to everyone in Osage County.
And a group of private organizations claim that a court ruling the tribe is seeking "will open the door to allow the nation to attempt to tax, regulate and otherwise assert sovereignty and jurisdiction" over non-Indian property.
The coalition of organizations — whose members include businesses, farmers, ranchers and petroleum producers — contend such a ruling would endanger their continued existence.
"If a court were to determine that (non-Indian property) in Osage County were in fact part of a reservation of the (Osage) Nation," the non-Indian property owners "would be greatly disrupted," the coalition asserts.
The organizations take that position in written arguments submitted as "friends of the court" to the Denver-based appeals court. They are opposing the tribe's appeal of a decision by U.S. District Judge James Payne in Tulsa.
Payne ruled a year ago against the tribe's claim that its members generally are exempt from state income taxes. The tribe makes its claim on the basis that federal law bars states from taxing the income of tribal members who reside and earn that income in Indian country.
The tribe contends all of Osage County is Indian country because Congress in 1872 defined the boundaries of the county as conterminous with the Osage Reservation and, contrary to Payne's ruling, has never "disestablished" the reservation.
The Osage Nation asserts that Congress, federal agencies "and even the state of Oklahoma have acknowledged the continuous existence of the reservation,"
The tribe sued the tax commission on the income tax issue.
The commission contends in court filings — and citing history books — that various federal laws show that Congress intended to disestablish the reservation and events that occurred early last century "point to disestablishment." The commission also refers to "more than a century of settled jurisdictional expectations premised on the understanding" that the reservation no longer exists.
The lawsuit "threatens not only to deprive the State of needed taxing authority, but also to subject the predominately non-member population . . . to the (Osage) Nation's recently and expansively asserted claim of jurisdiction," the commission asserts.
A decision from the appellate judges may come within four months, a court official said.
Organizations opposing the
Osage Nation in its lawsuit
Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce
and Industry, the Oklahoma
Municipal League, the Oklahoma
Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s
association, the Oklahoma
association of electric Cooperatives,
the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum
association, the Oklahoma
Rural Water association, the environmental
Federation of Oklahoma,
the Oklahoma Wildlife Management
association, Public Service Company
of Oklahoma, the Osage County
Farm Bureau and the Osage County