Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Chairman Dennis Patch has taken issue with a letter from the Town of Parker regarding taxation. He stated that, contrary to the claims of the Town, the Tribes have the authority to collect sales taxes from businesses within the town limits.
Patch’s letter was published on the Manataba Messenger Facebook page. He said he was responding to the Town’s letter to businesses dated Sept. 22. In that letter, which was signed by the Mayor and Common Council, it was stated the amount of sales tax a business in the Town of Parker could collect was 9.6 percent. The letter stated the Tribes’ 2 percent sales tax could only be charged by businesses on Tribal land.
The letter was in response to a posting on a local news Facebook page that claimed local sales taxes had increased to 11 percent. Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer said the amount businesses within the town limits could collect is 9.6 percent, and the Tribes’ sales tax could not be collected within the town.
In his letter, Patch claims the Town is telling local businesses not to pay lawful Tribal taxes. He cited the cases of White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker and Water Wheel Camp Recreational Area, Inc. v. LaRance as demonstrating tribes have the authority to regulate businesses in Indian County, including the use to taxation.
“Your Sept. 22 letter invites businesses to ignore and thwart the Tribes’ taxing authority,” Patch said. “This is a grave error. Not only is your directive based on the false premise that tribal taxes are ‘not applicable’ in the Town of Parker limits, the letter has unnecessarily sewn confusion regarding the Tribes’ jurisdiction, for which Town businesses ultimately bear liability.”
Patch goes on to state the letter insinuates the Tribes do not jurisdiction within the Town of Parker. He said court cases have ruled this is not correct. He said the case of Colorado River Indian Tribes v. Town of Parker (1989) held that the Town had not be “disestablished” by Congress from the reservation. He said this was reinforced by the recent case of McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), which found that, once a piece of land had been set aside as part of a reservation, it remained part of a reservation until an act of Congress changed that status.
“In other words, the fee lands within the Town of Parker have not been disestablished and therefore are Indian County for purposes of determining jurisdiction over Indians and non-Indians,” Patch said. “These cases put to rest any legitimate question regarding the extent of the Tribes’ regulatory jurisdiction.”
“The Tribes demand that the Town immediately take steps to clarify the Tribes’ sovereign taxing authority,” Patch continued. “Otherwise, the Town risks ensnaring law-abiding businesses, upon whom the Town and Tribes rely, in the Town’s misinformed efforts to undermine the Tribes’ jurisdiction. We trust this letter resolves this matter.”
The 9.6 percent sales tax Wedemeyer described includes 5.6 percent for the State, 2 percent for the Town, and 2 percent for La Paz County. The county’s tax is split between their excise tax and the tax to pay back the judgement bonds in the Yakima case.