Tribal board may refuse to enact tax on land sales

TULALIP — It could take a legal tussle to enact a resolution that Tulalip tribal members passed by an overwhelming majority at a General Council meeting late last month.

About 80 percent of the 918 tribal members who attended the meeting approved the Future Generations Land Protections Act, which requires Indians to pay a tax of about 17 percent on any developed land sold to non-Indians.

It’s likely that tribal board members will refuse to ratify the resolution in their next board meeting because it could hurt Indians who develop land within the Tulalip Indian Reservation for profit, said Les Parks, a former tribal board member who now leads the Tulalip Grassroots Committee.

The Grassroots Committee presented the resolution to the tribes’ voting members on March 22, during one of the tribes’ twice-yearly meetings.

Tulalip Tribes Board Chairman Mel Sheldon said after the vote that he would ask the tribes’ attorneys to review the resolution to make sure the tax is within the tribes’ sovereign powers, as outlined in the tribal constitution.

Attorneys for the tribes could not be reached for comment.

George White, a spokesman for the Tulalip Tribes, said the board has not formally stated its position on the resolution.

The Grassroots Committee might hire its own attorney to ensure that the tribal board follows through with the General Council’s wishes.

“You can hire an attorney who’s going to say it’s wrong, and you can find an attorney who is going to say it’s right,” Parks said. “I’ve been around our constitution long enough to know what it says and what it means. I firmly believe that what we’ve presented is firmly legal and firmly enforceable.”

Indian tribes are sovereign nations with the power to create and impose their own taxes, said Sarah Krakoff, an associate professor at University of Colorado who specializes in American Indian law.

In recent years, more tribes have begun levying taxes, such as sales and natural resource taxes.

“It’s a new generation in tribal taxes,” Krakoff said but added that she’s not aware of any other tribe that plans to tax its own members for selling land to non-Indians.

Tulalip tribal leaders may run into problems from non-Indians who charge the tribe with discrimination for discouraging tribal members to sell to them, Krakoff said.

When the Tulalip Indian Reservation was created in 1855 by the Treaty of Point Elliott, it was about 22,000 acres. In 1887, the federal government divided Indian reservations and allotted portions of the land to tribal members, many of whom sold their land to white settlers.

When Stan Jones, the longest-serving Tulalip board member, first joined the tribal government in 1966, the tribes only owned about 600 acres within the reservation boundaries, he said.

Jones led the tribal government through the 1990s, when the tribes bought much of the land back. Now, about 16,000 acres within the reservation boundary are “trust lands,” held in trust by the federal government for the tribes.

Many tribal members own land that was allotted to their ancestors and passed down. Some of those Indians have developed that land and sold it at a great profit to non-Indians, Parks said. Now, the reservation is a checkerboard of trust land and land owned by individuals, Indians and non-Indians.

Tribal members who build using Tulalip building permits are not subject to fees common to other cities and towns, Parks said. A tribal member can sell developed land at the region’s market value, then collect extra profit that would have otherwise been eaten up by fees, he said.

Under the Future Generations Land Protection Act, a tribal developer will be assessed a tax of about 17 percent if he or she sells the land immediately, Parks said. That money will be used to purchase more land for the tribes.

If the developer sells the land within 10 years of development, the tax will be prorated. After 10 years, the tribal member can sell without paying the tax to the tribes.

“It’s meant to take the lucrativeness out of developing land and selling it to non-Indians,” Parks said.

Some tribal members are concerned that the tribe will demand the tax even if they are forced to sell their home because of financial hardship, Parks said.

“We’re willing to take that risk,” Parks said. “Those times are far and few between.”

If tribal members are selling land, the tribal government should have the first option to buy it, Jones said.

Jones said he will ratify whatever resolutions were passed during the General Council meeting, but said tribal members should be cautioned when changing course in any way on an issue as important as land.

“We’ve got to be really cautious, and just keep purchasing land in the reservation and off the reservation as much as we can,” he said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead, 1 in hospital after 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

A concrete pumping truck and two sedans crashed Monday afternoon, closing the highway near Bickford Avenue.

Moses Malachi Brewer appears in court for sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to 18 years for 2019 shooting in Everett

Moses Brewer, 23, shot four people in an Everett apartment, which left one victim paralyzed on his right side.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Health care spending continues to outpace inflation, driven by prices

Can state efforts curb 6.7% growth per year in overall health care spending?

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A buffet of budgets, a bunch of whales and a request for your miles

It’s Day 78. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
A mostly united Senate sends $71B spending plan to the House

The proposed budget passed on a 40-9 vote. It hikes spending for schools, child care and human services.

Officers were dispatched to a report of shots fired Thursday morning, March 2, 2023, at the Erwin Estates Apartment Complex in the 8200 block of 11th Dr W in Everett. (Everett Police Department)
‘Did I shoot anyone?’ Everett man charged with killing sleeping neighbor

Jeremy Jones called police to report apparent delusions about his neighbor. A day later, he fired through a wall.

Max Larson, 14, poses for a photo at Terrace Park in Arlington, Washington, on Monday, March 27, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Wrap-around service gives at-risk kids ‘a shoulder that you can lean on’

Compass Health’s WISe program saw 750 referrals last year in northwest Washington — a “significant” increase.

Jeanette Westover poses for a photo at her home in Snohomish, Washington on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Tenant: Housing Hope ignored meth contamination at Snohomish apartment

Jeanette Westover says meth contamination far exceeding state limits gave her seizures and kidney infections.

A Sounder gray whale. (Cascadia Research)
Don’t be flummoxed: Help is needed to name 5 Puget Sound gray whales

The voting poll on the Sounders, as these whales are called, is until Sunday for the grays dining in our waters.

Most Read