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2018-03-08 / Voices

Why is the Bennett County Resolution Racist?


Bennett County Resolution #1-2018, which supersedes Resolution #5- 2016, is a racist document because it targets only one race of people—American Indians—with regard to property taxes and being recipients of county services. The resolution is a farcical initiative by the Bennett County Commissioners to extort $1 million annually from the Congress of the United States. It asserts that the annual payment would “fund the county services provided to and for Indian people living on trust lands.”

Indian trust lands are owned by the United States and held in trust for the use of American Indian tribes and their citizens. The land is tax exempt—as are all federal lands. Bennett County has no jurisdiction over Indian trust lands, and therefore provides no county services on Indian trust lands. Yet the county is demanding that the federal government give it “a direct payment of estimated property taxes” for Indian trust lands to cover the costs of providing services to American Indians.

This absurd document should have been dismissed and discarded immediately when it was first proposed over a decade ago. Race based taxing sounds like something from one or two centuries ago, or from some anti-democratic country. No matter where property taxes are assessed in the United States, they are collected for the benefit of all persons on these lands, regardless of their race or any other personal, biological or financial characteristic. It is racist to write property tax resolutions that target one race of residents or citizens. But this resolution demands that the federal government pay the county the equivalent of property tax monies to provide services to one race of residents— American Indians.

The majority of Bennett County residents are not property owners, and therefore do not pay property taxes. Why don’t the commissioners demand that the federal government pay the county for providing services to these residents? Because the

Bennett County property taxes are collected to pay for the services the county provides on the lands over which it has jurisdiction. These services are tied to the land, not to the people who own the land, who live on the land, or who happen to be traveling across the land.

For instance, the largest landowner in Bennett County doesn’t live in the county and therefore receives no county services. Why does he have to pay property taxes? Because his land is under the jurisdiction of the county, and the county services are to the land, not to him personally.

Another person rents a ranch house and acreage in the county. She doesn’t own the land, yet she benefits from county services provided on all the lands over which the county has jurisdiction. Should she have to pay property taxes? Of course not! The owners of the county lands are responsible for paying property taxes. Persons do not have to pay property taxes to receive county services.

How about rodeo performers, seasonal workers, former students who return for class reunions, and visitors from foreign countries? Do the commissioners demand that their local or national governments pay the county for services they receive on county lands? Of course not! The county is required to provide services on its lands, even if the persons receiving the services do not own property, do not live in the county, and are not even citizens of the United States.

It is repulsive to single out one race of people with regard to property taxes or for being beneficiaries of county services. Resolutions that do this are racist. Resolution #1- 2018 is racist and should be withdrawn immediately.

CAIRNS is an Indiancontrolled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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