State governments in the U.S. along with Indian tribes across the country are keeping an eye on what could be a precedent-setting case about possible foreclosure on land owned by the Oneida Indian Nation.
Last month, the case was kicked from the U.S. Supreme Court back to district court.
The suit was filed after the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision that the Oneidas had to pay property tax on non-reservation land in Oneida and Madison counties in New York. When the tribe did not comply—members argued that the nation was exempt due to sovereign immunity—the counties sought to foreclose on the land.
A loss for the Oneidas in this case could chip away at the sovereign status of all tribes, says John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.
“It’s like a death by a thousand cuts,” Dossett told the Utica Observer Dispatch. “Over long spans of time, the Supreme Court just seems to find against tribes on a regular basis.”
The high court’s decision to send the longstanding case back to the U.S. 2nd District can be viewed as a positive for all Indians, Dossett said.
New York is not the only state with a stake in the outcome. Eleven other states in the U.S. have filed a brief with the courts. They say blocking the counties from foreclosing on the property “imperils real property tax collection throughout the United States” because it lets Indians “escape enforcement of lawfully imposed real property taxes.”
Meanwhile, the Oneidas are trying to have their non-reservation property put into federal trust, which would render it free of state and local taxation and regulation. The state and counties are fighting that plan.