ALLEGANY TERRITORY, Salamanca Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter recently called on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to recognize Indian nations' sovereign immunity from all forms of taxation and make tax reforms in Indian Country sensible and simple.
Testifying on tax change in Washington before the powerful Senate committee, President Porter said, "I suggest that the promise of tax reform will have the most impact if it advances first the principles that are at the foundation of federal Indian policy at its best tribal nations are governments whose exclusive authority to govern all economic activity on their territory is fully respected as a matter of federal law. Resurrecting this tribal territory sovereignty approach should be the focus of any new, bold tax-reform efforts.
"If the goal is to increase economic growth in Indian Country, tribal territories must be recognized as places of economic opportunity for tribal governments and tribal citizens."
Porter told the committee, of which Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, is a member, that past efforts to achieve tax reforms that benefit Indian territories are too complicated and collectively ineffective. He emphasized that to be successful and achieve their intent, tax changes must be simple.
Toward the end, he said the lawmakers should allow an experiment.
"Instead of dialing back potential tax incentive benefits to useless levels, I urge you to declare unlimited tax immunity within a limited number of footprints in Indian Country for a limited number of Indian nations. In other words, I suggest you shape tax reform law so as to restore complete tax immunity in a demonstration or pilot project that is constrained in order to make it cost feasible, but with unlimited cost benefits to facilitate its success."
This is President Porter's second time in six months testifying before Congress. On Oct. 6, 2011, he testified before the U.S Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that it's past time for America's leaders to include Indian nations in the riches of the digital age. President Porter's main message then was that the Seneca and other indigenous people must be full partners in e-commerce.
President Porter, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has been the Nation's president since November 2010. His administration focused on economic growth and reforms designed to lead the Nation's 8,000 enrolled members to improved economic achievement and standing. These efforts have included seeking the relicensing to the Nation of the Kinzua Pumped Storage Project on the Allegany River; cooperation and discussions with regional economic development agencies; and enforcement of the Nation's exclusive zone in Western New York for casino gaming.
The Seneca Nation, in the last 10 years, developed a $1 billion economy that employs more than 5,000 people, pays a $125 million annual payroll, makes $176 in annual vendor purchases and has developed companies in construction management and telecommunications. And all the Nation's revenues and profits return to its historic native home in the Buffalo-Niagara region.
He suggested to the senators that several dozen Tribal Empowerment Zones could attract a manufacturing company to locate to Indian Country instead of overseas while obtaining many of the same cost and regulatory benefits.
"Instead of Indians having to live in poverty because there is no work, jobs can be created on the reservation. Instead of Indians having to drive long distances for basic food supplies, stores can be located near where people live. This is not an outrageous idea, but simply bringing to Indian Country much of what the rest of America already has at its fingertips."
President Porter concluded, "Too often we hear from members of Congress only lip service when it comes to truly helping our nations and our people. For the Seneca Nation, and I believe many others, we seek an economic future in which we are free to care for ourselves and our future generations without interference. If the Congress can resume the path of respecting our inherent and treaty-protected exclusive rights to control development in our lands, including the exclusive right to develop and regulate our own economies, I believe that the promise of our treaty relationship can be fulfilled.
"I strongly encourage you to pursue this bold initiative that will in a very simple way restore complete tax immunity to Indian Country and with it a real and practical opportunity for economic revitalization."