OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — After an Otoe Missouria tribal member was fined by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Tuesday for having “improper” tribal tags – despite the stickers showing her registration is up-to-date – state lawmakers are looking at how they can change this.
Crystal DeRoin was initially pulled over for speeding, but to her surprise, the trooper slapped her with a $249 ticket for failure to pay taxes to the state.
“Otoe Missouria tribal tag but has residence in Pond Creek outside of the tribal jurisdictional area.”Trooper note on DeRoin’s ticket
According to an Oklahoma Department of Public Safety statement provided to News 4 Thursday morning, there are two circumstances in which a tribal member living in Oklahoma may use a tribal tag in lieu of a state-issued tag:
- Pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Okla. Tax Comm’n v. Sac & Fox Nation, 508 U.S. 114 (1993), Indians may use a tribal tag if they have registered their vehicles through the tribe and reside and principally garage their vehicle in the tribe’s Indian Country.
- For tribes with a valid compact with the state, members of those tribes may lawfully use a tribal tag no matter where the person lives.
“Other than these two circumstances, all Oklahomans must register their vehicles with an Oklahoma tag and registration. Oklahomans who fail to do so are subject to enforcement under the Oklahoma Vehicle License and Registration Act, which may include a misdemeanor citation and/or impoundment of the vehicle,” the agency said in a statement.
Although the statement was sent with a memorandum letterhead, a Department of Public Safety spokesperson told KFOR it is not a memorandum and it was not sent to anyone.
The only three tribes who are compacted with Oklahoma for car tags are Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation.
The federal case DPS is referring to was decided in 1993.
In summary, a federal judge decided the state cannot impose “vehicle excise tax and registration fees on tribal members who live and garage their cars principally on tribal land and register those cars with the Tribe.” Outside of tribal boundaries though, it’s free game.
“This is addressing a significant public safety issue that puts law enforcement and others at risk. If tribal governments won’t share vehicle registration information with DPS, we can’t keep our officers and our streets safe. Members of tribes with valid compacts that provide needed car registration information will not be ticketed. Oklahoma Highway Patrol is simply enforcing the law and following U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt
Iowa Nation Chairman, Jacob Keyes, told KFOR he was unaware of the law until DeRoin’s social media post Wednesday.
“In Indian country, news moves fast. It’s frustrating to see. The temperature has been turned up in this relationship between some people in the state government and the tribes,” said Keyes. “When we see something like that, it kind of feels like they’ve been targeted for being a tribal member, for being native.”
He said he would have preferred a heads up about the enforcement of this law, so the Iowa Nation could have gotten in front of it.
“This fight seems to be between the governor and some state tribal leaders and not with individual tribal members, you know, but they’re the ones paying the price. Our job is to try to fix that,” added Keyes.
Currently, the Iowa Nation doesn’t have a compact with the state on tribal tags.
However, the Iowa Nation already shares registration information with the Department of Public Safety through the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, also known as OLETS.
OLETS is a computer network that connects public safety agencies across the state to criminal histories, driver records, and other databases. It provides intrastate interconnectivity for criminal justice agencies to various local, state, and federal database systems.
“A lot of the non-compact tribes do report through OLETS and so that information is out there,” said Keyes. “So to me, the safety side of it is not necessarily the issue. It looks to me like a revenue issue.”
The State Attorney General’s office told KFOR on Thursday that the compacting process would solve this.
News 4 asked Keyes why Iowa Nation hasn’t compacted with the state on tribal tags. He said there has never been a need to do so.
“Because we were never approached by the state saying, ‘Hey, you need to have a compact or else this is what’s going to happen to your tribal members.’ There’s never been a reason to look into it or even create a compact. We’re not opposed to talking about a compact and coming up with what that would look like,” explained Keyes. “We just want somebody to meet with us about it and to be open with us and have good faith negotiations about it.”
Several other tribes have echoed the same.
“Please know this change was made without any consultation with the Osage Nation and without notice. The Osage Nation is working on multiple fronts to address the issue. Your safety and well-being is our top priority,” the Osage Nation wrote in a statement.
“Cherokee Nation is prepared to protect and defend its sovereign right to issue motor vehicle tags, which is embodied in a state-tribal compact,” stated Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.
The Caddo Nation issued a statement as well saying it is working with their legal team to understand the issue and how it will affect Caddo Nation members with tribal tags.
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians said it is seeking intervention from the State Attorney General to pause this from happening until “cool heads can regain control of negotiations.”
“The Comanche Nation is actively addressing the tribal tag issue with the state of Oklahoma, working towards a resolution that aligns with tribal sovereignty and regulatory compliance,” stated the Comanche Nation.
The Otoe Missouria said, “This change was made without notice or consultation with all Tribes that operate vehicle tag registration. We are concerned about this change and are reviewing all legal options to address this issue. Once again, consultation and/or diplomacy with the tribal governments prior to this policy implementation would have been helpful to avoid this difficult situation.”
Seminole Nation also released a statement:
In light of the recent events regarding tribal tags issued to members living outside the jurisdictional boundaries of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Business & Corporation Regulatory Commission wants you to know that we have been working diligently with our attorney and Attorney General’s office to gather as much information as possible in order to keep you informed and provide our registered owners a plan of action if you are pulled over by law enforcement,
What to do if you get stopped:
- Remain calm, do not be argumentative, and comply with requests for documentation.
- Ask the officer why did they stop you?
- Remember you have the right to remain silent, but you must comply with identification requests such as what is your name and birthday.
- Take your copy of the ticket and provide a copy to the BCR.
Also seemingly out of the loop were lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
Representative Forrest Bennett (D-OKC) told KFOR he learned of this new law and tribal tag trouble through news reports Thursday.
“The gut feeling was it just didn’t feel right. It, obviously, is a weird time for this to happen. It feels we don’t know the full story, I suppose, but it feels political and it feels like a natural progression of the tension that’s happening between the tribes and the state,” said Rep. Bennett. “I want to be clear that across the political spectrum in the legislature, by and large, I think there’s a real sympathy for the tribes and what they’re enduring.”
He said by straining the relationship with tribes, it trickles into local communities as tribal dollars fund roads, infrastructure, education, and more.
News 4 pointed out how because this is federal law, it takes precedent over state law. We asked Rep. Bennett if there is anything he or his colleagues could even do moving forward.
He referred back to an act passed by Congress regarding land the Shawnee Nation wanted for gaming. He said if Oklahoma could work with federal agencies like they did then, it may work out in favor of the tribes.
Rep. Bennett said legislators could also try rewriting the law.
“Federal law superseding state law hasn’t stopped my colleagues from trying in the past,” he added. “It deserves a conversation. I think it’s just going to be one additional facet in this increasingly complex situation with the tribes.”
Governor Stitt has already shelled out nearly $2M over the last three years in tribal lawsuits. Rep. Bennett is worried this could cost Oklahomans even more.
Representative J.J. Humphrey (R-Lane) said he just wants the Governor to have a sit down conversation with the tribes.
“It looks to me like another opportunity just to piss somebody off and trying to make a fight,” stated Rep. Humphrey. “Let’s quit fighting over nothing.”
He encourages the Governor to select a group of legislators to negotiate compacts with the tribes. If not, “We’re going to have to come back in and write something as a state,” he said.
Rep. Humphrey said he understands DPS has a federal law to enforce, but he doesn’t agree with how the issue is being handled.
“Why are we allowing federal government to dictate to Oklahoma all of these things?,” he asked. “This is not really the federal government’s business. If that’s the case, under federal law, marijuana is illegal.”
Rep. Humphrey said he doesn’t believe this will be a difficult issue to resolve.
News 4 filed an open records request with DPS Thursday to see how many tribal tag holders have been ticketed under this law.
A DPS spokesperson told KFOR the agency would not be able to fulfill the request.
“We could only search the type of citation – which would be failure to pay taxes due to the state. We would not be able to separate out which ones were tribal tags,” said the spokesperson Friday.
News 4 also requested a list of how many tribes provide tribal tag registration information to DPS, but the DPS spokesperson said the agency was off Friday for the Veteran’s Day holiday. That data would not be provided until at least Monday.
If you’re a tribal tag holder needing/wanting to switch to state tags, it could cost you:
- Years 1-4: Annual fee is $96.00 + $1.50 (insurance) + applicable mail fee.
- Years 5-8: Annual fee is $86.00 + $1.50 (insurance) + applicable mail fee.
- Years 9-12: Annual fee is $66.00 + $1.50 (insurance) + applicable mail fee.
- Years 13-16: Annual fee is $46.00 + $1.50 (insurance)+ applicable mail fee.
- Years 17-up: Annual fee is $26.00 + $1.50 (insurance) + applicable mail fee.
- Duplicate Title: $11.00 + notary + applicable mail fees.
- Lien (completed form): $10.00
- Replacement Tag/Decal: $9.00 + $1.50 (insurance) + notary + applicable mail fee.
Iowa Nation currently has 480 members who have tribal tags, most of which live within the nation’s boundaries.
“If you don’t live in that jurisdiction like myself, then you know, what we need to do is if you get a ticket, call our office, let us know about it, and give us that opportunity to try to fix that with the state before you have to pay a ticket,” said Keyes. “I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. Follow the law, don’t speed, don’t break traffic laws and you should be fine. Just know we’re working nonstop to try to fix the situation.”