Kan. tribe wins round in car tag dispute
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JUNE 26, 2001

Thanks to a federal appeals court ruling issued on Monday, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is one step closer to having its car tags and titles recognized by the state of Kansas.

Rejecting a number of arguments brought the the state, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction which prevents Kansas officials from enforcing state law on 20 tribal members who have been issued car tags so far. The Kansas Department of Revenue and the Highway Patrol had sought to tax and cite the tribal members in question for not having state-approved tags.

But the appeals court said the tribe would suffer "irreparable harm" if Kansas officials were allowed to go after the tribal members. Tribal sovereignty is at risk, said the court, in rebuffing the state's attempt to lift the injunction.

"Motor vehicle registration and titling is a traditional governmental function," wrote the court. "Thus, the threat of continued citation by the state created the 'prospect of significant interference with [tribal] self-government.'"

Yesterday's ruling is a win for 500-member tribe who started issuing tags and titles as part of its motor vehicle code in 1999. The tribe, however, can't claim complete victory until the state is forced to recognize all future car tags and titles, not just those currently in place.

For that to happen, a federal judge in Kansas has to weigh in on the issue. But the Potawatomi Nation would not be alone if US District Judge Dale Saffels rules in its favor.

Tribal car tags are prevalent in neighboring Oklahoma, whose government recognizes them. In fact, the tribe and the appeals court noted, Kansas recognizes tags issued by Oklahoma's tribes.

Currently, about two dozen tribes in Oklahoma issue car tags as a way to bring in revenue but also to assert tribal sovereignty and express tribal pride. The tags also offer members an economic alternative to the sometimes high cost of state registration.

Kansas has resisted the Potawatomi tags on two grounds: safety and loss of revenue. But during court proceedings, highway officials acknowledged the issue was more monetary.

"The record indicates that the defendants might have exaggerated the safety problem," said the court.

Native American Times reports this month that the Oklahoma Intertribal Tax Association is starting up a database of tribal car tags which could be used by Indian and non-Indian police to access registration information.

There are four federally recognized tribes in Kansas.

Get the Decision:
PRAIRIE BAND OF POTAWATOMI INDIANS v. PIERCE, No 99-3324 (10th Cir. June 25, 2001)

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Related Stories:
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation -
Kansas Attorney General -
Kansas Department of Revenue -

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