Is Osage County a reservation? Tribal official says yes

By Tony Thornton Modified: July 8, 2007 at 6:24 am •  Published: July 8, 2007
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actually cost $13.29.

In several instances, however, the store charged less than the offered price.

Under the Oklahoma Weights and Measures Law, store price scanners must match the offered price 98 percent of the time.

The Agriculture Department's consumer protection services division wrote at least three notices of violation this year and imposed a $2,100 fine, which the store paid, records show.

Gray's letter said the store manager never told any tribal government officials about the inspections and agreed to pay the fine without first contacting Gray.

Payment of the fine doesn't mean the tribe consents to state jurisdiction over the store, Gray wrote.

Jurisdiction key to lawsuit
It is generally accepted that the state can't enforce most codes and regulations on Indian trust land in Oklahoma.

For instance, state Fire Marshal Robert Doke has said his agents can't enter tribal casinos and inspect for occupancy or smoking restrictions.

However, the Osage's grocery store isn't on trust land. The tribe has paid taxes on the store's property for years, County Assessor Gail Hedgcoth said.

Last year, the tribe paid $1,739 in property taxes, she said.

Janet Stewart, the agriculture department's general counsel, said her understanding is that all tribe-owned property is considered Indian land, and therefore exempt from state laws.

"It doesn't matter if it's trust land or restricted land or unrestricted land,” Stewart said.

The agency sent Gray a letter on June 28 seeking to "work together” concerning consumer protection enforcement. Gray hasn't responded, Stewart said.

Not all state agency attorneys agree with Stewart's interpretation of what constitutes Indian land.

The state Tax Commission has been fighting the issue of the Osages' jurisdiction in federal courts since 2001.

In that case, the tribe claims its employees who live in Osage County are exempt from paying state income taxes.

An attorney for the tribe noted that the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled that the Osages, unlike any other Oklahoma tribe, still have a reservation. That reservation is Osage County, the federal agency said.

A Tulsa federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2003. The tribe appealed to a federal appeals court in Denver, where oral arguments were held nearly three years ago. The appeals court hasn't issued a ruling.

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