Crow Creek Setting up Tipis: IRS Plans to Sell Land
**URGENT**Please Help Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. . We are setting up Tipi’s and Having Han Blece’Yapi on the land.
IRS sells SD Indian tribe’s land to settle debt
By CHET BROKAW (AP) – 2 hours ago
PIERRE, S.D. — The Internal Revenue Service on Thursday auctioned off a large swath of land owned by an impoverished Indian tribe to help pay off more than $3 million in back taxes, penalties and interest — a sale the tribe says is illegal under federal laws protecting Indian land.
The 7,100 acres, or 11 square miles, of Crow Creek Sioux tribal land in central South Dakota ranch sold for almost $2.6 million, less than the $4.6 million it was appraised at, said IRS spokeswoman Carrie Resch. She did not say who bought the land.
The tribe filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District court in Pierre seeking to block the sale. Judge Roberto A. Lange declined their request but promised to schedule a trial to hear the tribe’s arguments.
The land in question was part of the tribe’s original reservation established in an 1868 treaty, and was held by the federal government in a trust for the tribe. But it was eventually allotted to individual tribal members, who then sold it to non-Indians, putting it outside the tribe’s legal jurisdiction.
The tribe bought the ranch back in 1998 but the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not put the land back into trust, which would have protected it from seizure, Tribal Secretary Tommy Thompson said.
Tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue said he hopes the tax dispute can still be resolved in a way that allows the tribe to keep the land.
“It’s very disgraceful, very shameful. It’s devastating to us,” Sazue said after the auction. “Our land is never for sale.”
Lawyers said the tribe can purchase the land back during a 180-day redemption period, and the land will not change possession during that time. A trial is tentatively set for March 29-30, which is within the redemption period.
According to the lawsuit, the IRS was auctioning the land to recover more than $3.1 million in federal employment taxes owed by the tribe. The tribe didn’t pay the taxes because it was told, erroneously, by an official connected to the BIA that federally recognized tribes do not have to pay the taxes, according to the lawsuit.
The auction was unnecessary because the tribe is seeking a loan to pay off its tax bill, the lawsuit said.
The tribe contends the IRS cannot legally seize and sell the land because it is owned by Crow Creek Tribal Farms Inc., a corporation set up by the tribe that is not legally responsible for settling the tribe’s tax debts.
Members of the tribe have used the land and lived on it for a long time, according to the suit. “Members died and were buried on the land. Indeed, the lands were considered so important to the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe that the Tribe went into debt to acquire the land as part of its land consolidation effort to enlarge the Crow Creek Indian Reservation,” it contends.
The tribe also argues that the seizure is illegal because the land cannot be taken without congressional approval and the IRS has not followed a federal law requiring an environmental assessment of the sale’s impact.
The tribe’s lawyer, Mario Gonzalez of Rapid City, said the IRS action was unusual. “This is the only instance that I know of where the IRS has levied on tribally owned land on an Indian reservation.”
Resch, the IRS spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the tribe’s legal arguments because the IRS does not comment on pending litigation.
Thompson said the IRS should have negotiated with the tribe, and that the tax bill could have been paid from trust money held for the tribe by the federal government.
“I’m kind of upset and kind of furious with the IRS,” Thompson said.
The land is particularly valuable to the tribe because it has been designated as a site for construction of wind towers to generate electrical energy, Sazue and Thompson said.
Buffalo County, which encompasses the Crow Creek reservation, is consistently listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as one of the poorest counties in the nation. The Census Bureau reported that more than 39 percent of the county’s population lived in poverty in 2005, when the annual median household income was just $16,868. The county had a 20 percent unemployment rate in October, four times higher than the state average, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor.
The Internal Revenue Service plans to auction land on one of America’s poorest Indian reservations, the Crow Creek Reservation east of Pierre, according to a federal lawsuit that seeks to block the sale.
The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe sought to block the auction scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Highmore. A judge denied the request but indicated he will set the case for trial, said Terry Pechota, the lawyer for Crow Creek Tribal Farms Inc.
Although the auction will occur, no land would change hands until sometime after a court date in late March, said Duane St. John, a member of the tribal council.
The auction would sell about 7,100 acres of land on the reservation, according to a lawsuit filed late Monday in U.S. District Court for South Dakota.
The tribe has been planning to develop wind energy, and “this is our prime wind energy land – it’s prime wind energy land in the whole United States,” St. John said. “So that’s going to be another big hurt to us.”
The IRS intends to auction the land to settle delinquent federal employment taxes owed by the tribe, the lawsuit states. As of August, the tribe owed the IRS about $3.1 million in back taxes, penalties and interest, according to the lawsuit. The estimated value of the land is $4.6 million, according to a Pierre appraisal company, the court records show.
“For decades, the land was lived upon and used by members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe,” according to the lawsuit, which maintains that “a plethora of federal laws” protect such land and that it should not be sold.
“Cultural activities were conducted upon the land. Members died and were buried on the land,” the lawsuit states.
St. John said four families now living on the land also could be displaced if it is sold.
IRS spokeswoman Carrie Resch said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
“It is pretty unusual for the IRS to be engaged with a tribe trying to collect taxes like this,” said David Getches, dean of the University of Colorado Law School.
Tribes typically are not subject to federal taxes, but there are exceptions to that rule for business entities associated with tribes, such as casinos, Getches said.
“What is scary to tribes is the prospect of having lands that they own being auctioned off for back taxes,” Getches said.
Robert Williams Jr., a law professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, said “it is ironic that the Obama administration is pressuring banks to ease up on their mortgage foreclosure policies for defaulting homeowners in the worst recession since the Depression, and here Obama’s IRS is going after one of the poorest tribes in one of the poorest and economically hard-hit areas of the country.”
University of South Dakota law professor Frank Pommersheim, an expert in Indian law, said “I would say it’s unusual for the IRS to be auctioning property on a reservation that is arguably owned by the tribe or tribal entity.”
The ownership of the land could be a key factor in the case, he said.
It is on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation but has not always been controlled by the tribe, according to court records.
The land was a part of the original Crow Creek Indian Reservation established by the Treaty of 1868 and once was held in trust by the U.S. government for the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. It came out of trust and was sold to non-Indians, eventually becoming known as the LeMaster Ranch. In 1998, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe acquired the land as part of a larger effort to enlarge the reservation and ensure its future, the lawsuit states.
“Indeed, the lands were considered so important to the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe that the tribe went into debt to acquire the land as part of its land consolidation effort to enlarge the Crow Creek Indian Reservation,” the lawsuit states.
The land now is owned by Crow Creek Tribal Farms, a corporation formed under tribal laws that filed for bankruptcy in May, according to records from U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
The tribe maintains that the corporation is not delinquent on any taxes, and the IRS has no right to auction the land to settle the tribe’s tax bill.
The tax troubles date to 2003, when the tribe became delinquent in payment of federal employment taxes because it was operating under the assumption that payment was not necessary because it is a federally recognized tribe, the lawsuit states. It does not specify what type of employment is at issue.
“Because of erroneous tax advice received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in approximately 2003 became delinquent in payment of employment taxes collected by the IRS,” the lawsuit states.
Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BIA, said it’s the agency’s policy not to comment on cases in litigation.
Jeff Martin can be reached at 605-331-2373 or 800-530-6397.
To All Tribal Leaders Accross Indian Country,
We haven’t given up, the Tribe has 180
days yet and Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and I and our Pro bono Attorney are
still working on this. Starting Mon. we are setting up Tipi’s and having
Han Blece’Yapi on the land. It is bitterly cold here with snow flurries. It
is prime land overlooking the Missouri, the Tribe wanted to use for wind
energy. It was not held in trust, but fee land. The Sioux Tribes are
supporting Crow Creek.
It is time to make a stand once and for all! Make a statement that our land
never will be for sale!
EVERYONE PLEASE CONTACT
RANDY SIELER, FROM THE SIOUX FALLS US ATTORNEY’S OFFICE 605-330-4400 RIGHT
HE IS THE TRIBAL LAISON IN THE US ATTORNEYS OFFICE AND REQUEST A DELAY IN
THE AUCTION OF LAND ON BEHALF OF THE CROW CREEK SIOUX TRIBE
YOUR SUPPORT WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED.
Please help Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. Below are the contact numbers for the
SD Congressional Delegation and the article in USA Today.
A. Gay Kingman, M.Ed. Executive Director
Member, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association
1926 Stirling St.
Rapid City, SD 57702