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One down, one to go for Prairie Band Potawatomi

MAYETTA, Kan. - The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation isn't going to be selling license plates for a while, but with one court decision down and one to go, they may finally be on their way.

The 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals issued a preliminary rule against the Kansas Department of Revenue and the Kansas Highway Patrol who won't recognize the validity of the Potawatomi Nation's vehicle tags and titles.

The appeals court also upheld a preliminary injunction that temporarily bars enforcement of state vehicle laws against the 20 Potawatomi tribal members who were issued tribal plates or titles before the injunction was issued in October of 1999.

It is now up to Senior U.S. District Judge Dale E. Saffles in Topeka to decide whether the state will have to recognize validity of the plates and titles issued by the tribe. Saffles issued the injunction to bar the enforcement of state laws until the issue is resolved in court.

Although the state appealed, it lost in the 3-0 decision by the Denver court. David Prager III, general counsel for the band, said he is happy with the decision, considering it good news in the on-going battle.

"The 10th Circuit upheld the district court's preliminary which prevents the state from enforcing its registration and title laws against tribally registered vehicles," Prager said.

For now, no new tags will be issued to tribal members before the next round of court appearances. Prager said he believes that because of recent decisions by the court, the Potawatomi have a good chance of winning the next decision, but until then only the original 20 Potawatomi car tags issued in 1999 will be seen on the highway.

A part of the issue is whether a tribal member gives up the right to sovereignty just because he or she drives off the reservation. Prager said the state raised a safety issue because it doesn't have information about vehicles registered with the tribe, something Prager believes could be easily remedied.

"The irony of the case is the state has argued that it's a safety issue for them because the tribal tags are not in their computer system," Prager said. "But at the same time, they are refusing the tribe's request to enter the information into their computer system. They are saying they can't enter it because the tribe is not a state."

Prager added he believed the American Association of Vehicle Administrators would welcome tribal participation in their database, but said it is the Kansas Department of Revenue that has made it difficult for the tribal government. Until the next and last round of hearings, Prager is happy with this decision, saying he believes it shows the threatened injury to tribal sovereignty outweighs the potential harm to state sovereignty.