By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Ruthie Mae Rachard is the baby sister of Calvin McGhee the man who fought for the recognition of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, (PCI).
From the 50s to the 70s tribal leader Calvin McGhee spearheaded a campaign for recognition of Creek land claims in the southeastern states.
Ruthie Mae is 92 years old but her mind is clear about the events of the past.
“Education was the real reason Calvin started to go to Washington to fight for our tribes recognition,” said Ruthie Mae. “Indian children could not go to school passed grade six because we were not allowed in white schools.”
She said to Calvin this was about justice and he wanted the same rights for Indian children that were being given to others.
Her son Lonnie Rachard who was on the Tribal Council during some of this period said, “President John F. Kennedy was the man who was doing the most to help Calvin. Their is no telling how many years would have been saved if Kennedy had not been assassinated.”
Ruthie Mae said, “My brother, Calvin, just want what was right from the government. We used to hold chicken dinners to raise money to send him and others to Washington.”
“It was about justice with my uncle,” said Lonnie. “That’s all any of us wanted.”
Today in the eyes of the PCI and the thousands they employee in Escambia County and elsewhere are looking to see if the justice Calvin McGhee won will withstand the charges made by some on the Escambia County Commission.
The County Commission has contended that the PCI is not a sovereign nation and is therefore responsible to pay taxes on land and earnings at there casinos.
According the to the Chairman of the Escambia County Commission, the United States Supreme Court ruling in 2009 in Carcieri vs. Salazar strips the PCI of their status.
“The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984—50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside by the federal government,” Stokes said.
The Commission’s attorney Bryan Taylor from Prattville has said that if the tribe would pay their fair share of taxes that the Commission would drop their threats of legal action.
“Today they pay X, tomorrow they could pay Y. The problem seems to be that they would prefer to keep paying X and don’t want to pay Y, what every other taxpayer pays,” said Taylor. “That seems to be one of the reasons they’ve been so busy lobbying Congress to overturn the Carcieri decision rather than just complying with it and paying Y.”
However, many tribes are seeking the so-called Carcieri-fix to clear up the court ruling.
The Carcieri-fix has had bipartisan backing as well as support from the Obama administration. But the issue has faced opposition from tribes that want to create two classes of Indian recognition and the lawmakers that are fund such tribes.
If two classes are created then tribes like the PCI would not be allow to have gaming on their reservation.
But according to Taylor the issue with the commission is simply taxes.
“If PCI chooses to go to court to dispute the taxes, the result could be a ruling that’s worse for everyone than if the PCI simply were to pay their fair share,” said Taylor.
But if the tribe’s rights are not valid under Carcieri vs. Salazar then neither is gaming and by extension there would be few taxes to collect.
Many wonder if Taylor has not led the commission down a path that will be a looser for all but Taylor.
“This man made his political career working to help Bob Riley end gaming in Alabama,” said. Lonnie Rachard, “There is more to this than what that man is saying. I don’t believe the commission ever thought this through.” Rachard continued, “Bryan Taylor wants more than taxes.”
The following is a breakdown of what the Escmabia County Commission has said and the PCI response.
Escambia County Commission has said: On February 24, 2009, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Carcieri v. Salazar, tossing out everything we thought we knew about the legal status of Poarch Creek Indian lands.
PCI Position: The Carcieri decision does not impact the legal status of the lands that the United States has held in trust for the Tribe for over 25 years. The decision in Carcieri did not divest the United States of the 1,800 acres of land that the United States already held in trust for the Narragansett Tribe. Likewise, the decision did not divest the United States of the lands held in trust for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Federal Jurisdiction is Not Limited to Federal Acknowledgment
Escambia County Commission’s has said: The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984–50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside . . . under . . . the Indian Reorganization Act.
PCI Position: Carcieri did not hold that a tribe must be federally acknowledged in 1934 to have lands taken into trust. Instead, it held that the tribe must be “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. The Narragansett Tribe made no claims and proffered no evidence that prior to acknowledgment. The Narragansett maintained the kind of federal relationship possessed by many other tribes. The record in Carcieri showed only that the Narragansett were under formal guardianship of the State of Rhode Island beginning in 1709. In stark contrast, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, though not formally acknowledged until 1984, has a longstanding relationship with the United States.
Carcieri Did Not Divest the Federal Government of Title
Escambia County Commission has said: The Federal Government still hasn’t come into compliance with the Carcieri decision by relinquishing title to trust lands it has no legal authority to hold.
PCI Position: Nothing in Carcieri divested the United States of title to land that the United States already held in trust for the Narragansett Tribe or required the United States to relinquish title for lands held in trust for any other tribe.
The Tribe’s Support of the Carcieri-Fix Is Not About Avoiding County Taxes
Escambia County Commission has said: [The Tribe] is desperately pressuring Congress to overturn a Supreme Court ruling . . . in order to avoid having to pay their fair share of taxes.
PCI Position: The U.S. Constitution acknowledges Indian tribes as distinct governments, which are not subject to taxation by other governments. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has joined Indian tribes across the country in actively advocating that Congress enact a “Carcieri-fix” not because the Tribe believes that its existing lands are no longer held in trust and thus taxable, but to resolve confusion and obviate potential frivolous claims resulting from the Carcieri decision.