County wants casino to pay up

A south Alabama county is demanding the federal government give it an answer on the status of some Indian lands.  The Poarch Creek Band of Indians possesses land in Atmore, and operates a casino there.

The Escambia County Commission has asked Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to determine the protective status of the Tribe.

"We're positioning ourselves to no longer ignore," said David Stokes, an Escambia County Commissioner.  "We're planning to fish or cut bait."

It's an important question - because a lot of Indian land from recognized tribes is held in trust by the federal government - and can't be taxed.  If the government rules that the Indians aren't protected, the Creeks will owe the county property taxes.  Commissioners feel a 2009 Supreme Court ruling supports their efforts.

"Does the tribe want to cooperate with the tax assessor and have property be assessed and valued," said Bryan Taylor, a State Senator and an attorney for Escambia County.   "Or does the tribe maintain the position that the Supreme Court decision doesn't apply to them."

That's exactly what the tribe is saying.  While the county argues tribes recognized after 1934 can't have their lands in trust, the Poarch Creeks argues the fact they were recognized as a tribe after 1950 doesn't matter.

"These are lands that have already been taken into trust by the federal government. There are no pending applications," said Robbie McGhee, a representative of the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe.  "The Supreme Court in its ruling referred to Tribal Lands under federal jurisdiction. It said nothing regarding federally recognized tribes by the federal government."

The commissioners have not taken legal action as of yet, but the letter demands the Secretary take action.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have filed bills in Washington to adjust the act, so the language the Court cited in its ruling can be adjusted.  But the bills haven't moved very far.

The Poarch Creeks said they gave $1 million dollars to the Escambia County Schools last year and planned to give $ 2 million this year.   And it has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to local police to help them deal with crime.  The Wind Creek Casino in Atmore employs around 2,000 people.

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