The IRS has sold off a 7,100-acre parcel of land on Native American tribal land to pay off over $3 million in delinquent employment taxes, even though the federal government had earlier said the tribe did not owe taxes on the ranch land.
The Crow Creek Sioux tribe has filed a lawsuit in South Dakota in an effort to block the sale of the land, according to the Associated Press. A federal judge, Roberto Lange, turned down their request to block the sale, and it has been auctioned off for $2.6 million, $2 million less than its appraisal value. But the judge has scheduled a trial to listen to the tribes arguments.
The tribe has been on the land since at least an 1868 treaty. The land was held by the federal government in trust for the tribe. But the reservation was later broken up, privatized under the Dawes Act, and sold to non-Native Americans. The tribe eventually bought back the land in 1998 through a corporation, Crow Creek Tribal Farms Inc., but it was no longer under federal trust and apparently no longer tax exempt.
The tribe was planning to use the land to build wind farms and generate some much needed revenue, but the auction has thrown those plans to the wind. The tribe may be able to repurchase the land during a 180-day redemption period, however, and a trial is scheduled for late March. The tribe has little money of its own to pay for the land now, though, and lives in one of the poorest sections of the country. The federal government is still holding money in trust for the tribe that could be used to pay for the land, if the government allowed the money to be used.
This seems to be a case where the government should be making every effort to allow the tribe to continue to use its ancestral land, especially when it could be used for the wind energy that President Obama has campaigned to promote, not to mention his promises to help Native Americans overcome poverty. Buffalo County, S.D., has a 20 percent unemployment rate and the wind farm could not only help stimulate the economy there, but also provide jobs in a part of the country that sorely lacks them.