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Sunday, January 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tribe blasts county leaders

Appeal of BIA decision placing land in trust called insult

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians is outraged that Kootenai County commissioners appealed the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to place about 140 acres of tribal land under trust status.

The 142.6 acres north of Worley is the first land that the BIA has accepted into trust status in more than 30 years, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan said in a letter to the commissioners in mid-June. Allan said that federal decisions to take land into trust allow the tribe to recover ancestral lands lost to “misguided federal policies” in the late 1800s.

When Indian lands were opened to homesteading, tribes nationwide lost 70 percent of reservation lands, said Helo Hancock, the tribe’s legislative director. When the tribe has the opportunity, it buys back those lands and applies to the federal government to place them in trust status so there’s no danger of losing them again, he said.

“It’s not a ploy to save money. It’s much more about restoring our ancestral lands that were once taken,” Hancock said. “In a lot of ways it’s demeaning to have to make application to the federal government.”

To have the county commissioners then object to the BIA’s decision, due to the potential loss of $9,898.22 in annual property tax revenue, Allan wrote, is disturbing.

“The Tribe is insulted by this action, especially in light of subsequent discussions with individual commissioners, which have led us to believe that the County either does not appreciate or does not believe the Tribe is doing its fair share for the community to help offset the tax loss,” Allan wrote.

The tribe “respectfully” requested that the county withdraw the appeal.

Rick Currie, chairman of the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners, said the appeal was “standard procedure. They’ve made requests in the past and we’ve appealed that. It’s tax dollars that the county has used for whatever purposes. Those tax dollars during these tight times are important.”

Allan’s letter pointed out that in 2009, the tribe donated more than $1 million to Kootenai County schools, allocated $1.1 million for the county’s free public bus system, paid $100,000 toward its $1 million donation to the Kroc Center, donated $500,000 to other charities and spent $2.9 million on road- and transportation-related projects.

Hancock said the tribe donates significantly to the community to offset the loss of tax revenue. In addition, much of those lost revenues are compensated for through a federal program that in 2009 poured more than $1 million into the Plummer-Worley School District, he said. That federal program compensates counties for loss of tax revenue when tax-exempt tribal trust lands exist within their borders. Any additional trust lands would likely increase that compensation, Allan wrote.

Currie, however, said that those dollars go to schools in the region, not into the county budget.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said it was never the county’s intention to insult the tribe or damage the relationship it has with the tribe. He said part of the county’s job is to guard property tax revenues.

“It’s just a revenue loss,” Tondee said of the land placed under trust status. “Part of our job is counting pennies. That’s kind of what we need to do, especially with the state of our economy. There’s no insignificant amount.”

The county and tribe have set up a meeting to discuss the issue further. Hancock said that meeting has been set for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

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