Chickaloon Tribe Sends $500,000 Tax Bill to CIRI

The Chickaloon Athabascan tribe in the Mat Su Valley surprised leadership at the Cook Inlet Region Incorporated or CIRI regional Native corporation by sending them a tax bill in October for half a million dollars.

Chickaloon tribal chairman Doug Wade contends that the federal Indian Tribal Government Tax Status Act gives them this authority. Chairman Wade says he was in contact with Interior officials before sending the tax bill, saying he didn’t want to do anything illegal. He declined to name who he spoke to but says he basically asked permission to send the bill. And the answer?

“It was kind of funny, it was a long pause and then a kind of a giggle and hey no one’s ever tried this before this might be the answer to 229 tribes in Alaska,” Wade said.

Chairman Doug Wade says the tax is an estimated 3 percent of CIRI’s annual income. Wade says he also called the IRS to check Chickaloon’s standing. He says the IRS website lists Chickaloon as a valid entity under the tribal tax status act.

“It shows who can tax, which lists Chickaloon village, so I talked to the IRS and I said we’re gonna tax CIRI, and the answer, another flippant answer was good, you should,” Wade said.

The tax bill got the attention of CIRI officials and Wade says when letters were received from CIRI, he called the IRS again and asked if they would step in and help. They requested a position paper from the tribe stating what they were doing. He says the IRS person he talked to called back after receiving it and said IRS attorneys would not take a position on either side of the issue, but will watch the outcome. A regional IRS tribal representative said he could not discuss the Chickaloon issue with a reporter.

Wade says the Venetie supreme court decision that says there is no Indian Country in Alaska, made it impossible for Chickaloon to impose a land based tax, but he says an income tax has nothing to do with land. He says when CIRI gets large no bid government contracts, the money should flow more directly to the tribes.

“It’s not for them it’s supposed to be for the people, it’s not working that way. There’s such a discrepancy between the corporate lifestyle and village lifestyle. The tax is a way to kind of even this out a little bit. We need help for our governmental functions and we need help with our school. There’s no way, there’s no way to fund a school without a tax base,” Wade said.

The tax bill states that if the $500,000 is not paid by the end of the year, Chickaloon may seize CIRI assets or property. This got the attention of CIRI officials. The Corporation has asked a district court judge to issue an advisory opinion on the applicable law.

CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said in a written statement, in part, “CIRI does not believe that this statute allows an Alaska Native village entity authority to levy a tax against CIRI or any other third party.”

The statement goes on to say, “CIRI is confident that court will declare that Chickaloon Village Traditional Council’s tax claim is not supported by any federal authority and therefore is invalid.”

Attorneys familiar with the Tribal Government Tax Status Act say the act is not a statute that authorizes tribes to impose this kind of tax. Chairman Wade says he has until Dec. 19 to respond and he is waiting to see if Interior department lawyers will assist the tribe. Otherwise he says, other attorneys have offered to help.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori