Property owned by Vermont-recognized Native American tribes will be exempt from property taxes under a new law that takes effect in July.
The legislation, signed by Gov. Phil Scott, recognizes that Vermont lands “are the historic and current territories of the Western Abenaki people.”
“I sign it out of respect for the heritage of our Native American communities and traditions,” Scott wrote in a letter to the legislature. “Further, the associated costs to the Education Fund and the General Fund borne by all Vermonters are forecast to be negligible.”
To be exempt from the state and municipal property taxes, the property must be used for the purposes of the tribe and not leased or rented. Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, has said the tax exemption allows the tribes, which rely on grants and donations, to be able to use those resources “to help uplift our people” with food security and other needs.
The legislation states that “stewardship of these lands was removed from the Abenaki by European governments and settlers” and acknowledges “the Abenaki people as the traditional land caretakers of Ndakinna, which includes parts of Vermont, New England, and Quebec.”
Scott said in his letter that he signed bill with the understanding that nothing in it is intended to supersede the provisions of a Vermont statute that makes clear that state recognition of Native American tribes “shall not be construed to create, extend, or form the basis of any right or claim to land or real estate in Vermont.” He also said he “relied on the assumptions of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office that no additional non-profits will be created to take advantage of this bill’s benefits and the bill will not allow for or incentivize land transfers exclusively for the purpose of avoiding taxation.”
The tax exemption currently would apply to four properties in the towns of Barton, Brattleboro, Swanton and Brunswick Springs.