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.