Skip to main content

Oglala Sioux Back Bill to Stop IRS Harassment of Tribes

On August 2, 2013, Representative Nunes, joined by Representatives Jenkins, Kind, Gerlach, Reichert, Boustany, Cole, Moore, Delbene, Cardenas, Kilmer, Valadao, McCollum, Mullin and Gosar, introduced H.R. 3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2013. The Bill is designed to stop IRS efforts to tax tribal citizens who receive essential tribal government programs and services, such as housing, education, elder and child care, and cultural awards, among other things. Late in the game, the IRS has offered to provide guidance to its agents to respect at least some of our tribal government programs and services. That’s good, but we cannot leave Indian sovereignty and tribal self-government in the hands of IRS agents.

H.R. 3043 is important because it recognizes that Indian nations and tribes, as native governments, have a right and duty to tribal citizens to provide government programs and services to our people make our Indian lands and reservations livable homelands. In McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Comm’n, the Supreme Court explained, “It must always be remembered that … Indian tribes were once independent and sovereign nations.” We remember and we remain sovereign nations.

Our Lakota people were always free, and we fought for our freedom. In 1868, at the end of Red Cloud’s War, the United States entered the 1868 Treaty, pledging its honor to keep the peace. Chief Red Cloud burned the forts that the United States surrendered in the Powder River Country and signed our 1868 Treaty to end the war. Just a few years later, the United States broke its word, and came to take our sacred Black Hills for gold. As Chief Crazy Horse said,

We had buffalo for food, and their hides for clothing and for our teepees…. We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers were sent out in the winter, they destroyed our villages.

The United States’ taking of the Black Hills and our other lands left our people, who were happy and free, living in poverty. Today, as a result of the takings, we have 5 of the 10 poorest counties in the country on our Sioux reservations in South and North Dakota.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear were the Four Freedoms that all mankind should share. Yet, our people struggle with poverty on the reservations that are our “permanent” homelands. Indian nations reserved our original rights to self-government through our treaties. As the Supreme Court said in Ex Parte Crow Dog (1883), through our treaties and agreements, our Chiefs reserved “the best and highest form of government” for our people—self-government. As Indian nations and tribes, we work hard to make our reservations livable as “permanent homes,” as the United States promised in our treaties. Yet, life is hard.

For the past 10 years, the IRS has made life harder on Indian lands and reservations by coming out to our tribal governments, “camping out” at our tribal offices for weeks at a time and “fishing” for issues concerning tribal government programs and services, seeking to tax our tribal citizens. The IRS does this even though many of our tribal citizens are among the poorest people in America. From our point of view, the IRS actions violate our fundamental right to self-government, which extends down to us from long ago as the legacy of our first grandmothers and grandfathers. We cannot allow this invasion of tribal self-government, this violation of our treaties.

That is why the Oglala Sioux Tribe, joined by our sister Sioux Tribes and neighboring Indian nations and tribes in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, has been seeking legislation to honor tribal self-government, honor treaty rights and recognize our right to provide government programs and services for our own tribal citizens, without interference by the IRS. We have a right to work to improve our homelands, to make our reservations livable homes for our people. We call upon our sister Tribes throughout America to stand together to defend our freedom, fight for our self-government, and tell the IRS, “Respect Native Nations and our Treaties.”

We thank Congressman Nunes, his friends and colleagues for their good work in introducing H.R. 3043, and we call upon our Representatives and others to work together to ensure passage of this fundamental human rights legislation. As the United States honors its own freedom, it must honor the original freedom of Native nations. After all, in a Democracy, self-government is the foundation for Freedom.

Bryan Brewer is the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.