Mohawks have a right to thrive, not just survive

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All across Indian country, the undeniable right of tribal governments to
provide for the well-being of their membership is under attack and, in some
instances, is being systematically eroded by external agencies. The most
recent encroachment into Native lands comes in Mohawk territory where the
Internal Revenue Service is attempting to impose a regulation that would
force custom agents to begin collecting a federal excise tax on the
importation of fuel from Canada into our Native community.

It seems that all too many federal, state agencies and a slew of other
organizations have lost sight of the primary role tribal governments
provide - to ensure that Native peoples remain culturally and economically
viable as distinct groups of people. These responsibilities include being
able to provide and guarantee economic development opportunities where no
others exist. This is even more important in remote regions of the country,
like ours, that are termed "economically depressed" and are currently
experiencing high unemployment rates. It is in these unique areas where the
role of tribal governments is enhanced through the delivery of essential
programs and employment opportunities its businesses provide to tribal
members and the surrounding communities.

As sovereign nations, tribal governments are not taxed. This is a
constitutionally protected provision that helps to direct its government
revenue to effectively provide for its membership. The IRS purports the
regulation is not intended to fall directly on tribal governments, but it
clearly does as it jeopardizes a vital revenue stream utilized to provide
essential government services. The negative impacts of the imposed
regulation would have become apparent to the taxing arm of the federal
government had consultations been conducted with our tribal government.

The IRS regulation clearly undermines our government's ability to govern
internal affairs and threatens the degradation of most community services
we provide. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe currently licenses tribal businesses
and collects fees that are used to provide programs like law enforcement,
health, education, fire, environmental services and much, much more. In
2003 alone, the fees collected from fuel retailers and wholesalers amounted
to approximately $1,000,000 and directly supported these essential
services. Removing the competitive price advantage for our tribal
businesses will force many to close and significantly decrease the amount
of funding available. This will make many of our 180 tribal programs
ineligible for federal matching funds. The lack of tribal businesses that
provide a revenue stream for tribal matching funds threatens the
availability of essential government service for our community members.

In addition to paying administrative fees to our tribal government, our
community's businesses make generous contributions to many local and
regional organizations. Not to mention much needed employment opportunities
for more than 300 individuals including members of the tribe and the
surrounding communities and the sound economic base they provide to the
regional economy.

Executive Order 13175 has been in place since November 2000 to guarantee
regular and meaningful consultations with tribal governments on federal
policies that have direct tribal implications. The Internal Revenue Service
is currently developing a similar consultation policy, but failed to
consult with us prior to the imposition of the regulation. Doing so would
have clearly revealed the direct and devastating impact it will have on our
tribal government and community members. As stipulated by the same
Executive Order, any federal policy that has tribal implications is to
provide alternative sources of funding to pay for the direct costs incurred
by tribal governments.

For the IRS to state without meaningful dialogue and consultation that the
regulation poses no significant economic impact on our tribal government is
inaccurate. It violates the spirit and intent of both the Regulatory
Flexibility Act and the federal government's policy of consultation with
tribal governments. Based on this and other negative impacts, we strongly
oppose the implementation of the regulation and ask that immediate dialogue
take place prior to its imposition date of Sept. 28.

As an invaluable contributor to the financially-strapped economy of
Northern New York state, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe should have been
consulted on the impact the regulation will have on our tribal government
and the essential community services it provides. We have an inalienable
right to provide for the well-being of our tribal members and deserve more
than just a fighting chance to survive. We demand our right to guarantee a
strong, viable tribal economy for the generations yet to be born.

Chief James W. Ransom is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk tribal council.