Tribes Win Seventh Circuit Tax Appeal

Tribes Win Seventh Circuit Tax Appeal
Wisconsin Cannot Impose Tax on Indian Lands

In a win for four Ojibwe tribes in northern Wisconsin, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that Wisconsin can’t impose property taxes on lands owned by the tribes or their members within the permanent homelands (reservations) they negotiated in the Treaty of 1854. The Lac Courte Oreilles, Bad River, Red Cliff, and Lac du Flambeau Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa had appealed a 2021 ruling by federal district court Judge James Peterson to the contrary.

Following the Supreme Court’s rule that Congress must explicitly authorize a tax that falls on Indians on Indian land, the Court of Appeals found that Congress never authorized property taxes on the Tribes’ reservations. The Court rejected the State’s argument that any time land passed from non-Indian ownership to Indian ownership, it remained taxable. This means Wisconsin can't tax Ojibwe lands that have returned to tribal ownership after a period of non-tribal possession.

Vanya Hogen, who argued the case on behalf of the Tribes, said “We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals acknowledged the Tribes’ unbroken Treaty rights and recognized that Congress never authorized the State to impose these property taxes. This is an important victory for the Tribes and their members who have long been subjected to unauthorized taxes—and in some instances, threatened with the loss of their homes.”

"It comes down to our treaty rights and our right to govern our own lands," said Red Cliff Chairman Christopher Boyd. "Gaa-Miskwaabikaang just reclaimed roughly 1,500 acres in the past five years, and we're working very hard to provide enough space for our tribal members to live and exercise their treaty rights. A tax on our lands would put all of that in jeopardy. It's important to remind the state and federal governments that all Tribal Nations are Sovereigns, with their own government and rights to regulate. This decision reaffirms our ancestors' negotiated Treaties with the United States. Aho!"

Read the entire court judgement HERE.