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Judge dismisses Cherokee River's appeal of sales-tax exemption denial

By M.J. Ellington
DAILY Staff Writer

mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MOULTON — Now that a state judge has denied its claim for a sales-tax exemption as a sovereign tribe, a group of local Indians has filed for exemptions for the separate entities on their reservation.

Steve Bison, vice chairman of the Cherokee River Indian Community in Bankhead National Forest, said the tribe has applied for sales-tax exemptions for its church, volunteer fire department, and the tribe chairman's housing and utilities.

"Rather than applying for sovereignty, we are applying for each (separately) exactly by rule and by law," Bison said. "So if they turn us down, it will definitely be discrimination. This has nothing to do with us being Indian."

Bison said Lawrence County Circuit Judge Philip Reich dismissed the tribe's appeal of a ruling by the Alabama Department of Revenue, and its administrative law judge. The administrative law judge upheld the Revenue Department's ruling, which denied the tribe's request for sales-tax exemption.

There is no record of the March 4 ruling in circuit court. A clerk in Reich's office said the judge was waiting for the Revenue Department to write an order ending the case.

Bison said that during the March 4 hearing, the assistant Alabama attorney general who represented the Revenue Department made two points. The attorney said Bison was not eligible to represent CRIC in court because he is not a licensed attorney. He also said CRIC filed its appeal with the Revenue Department and the Circuit Court, instead of following the rule, which required the tribe to file the appeal with the administrative law judge.

"The judge voided the entire case as if it never happened," Bison said Friday. "There are several other things that are happening that appear to be discriminatory against our community, and against Indian people who don't happen to be associated with the Indian Affairs Commission. A lot of us feel that we have a grievance against the state and commission, and we intend to pursue that grievance."

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