Antiquated divorce code, state income tax discussed by tribal committee

Apr. 25—An antiquated divorce decree is being updated by Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, and members also heard a report on the Stroble tax case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

A resolution on the agenda for the April 25 Rules Committee meeting was tabled until the May meeting.

The item was to amend Title 43 of the Cherokee Nation code and adopt the first modern-day Cherokee Nation family planning and dissolution code.

"I would also like to ask if Judge [T. Luke] Barteaux could come and answer any questions anyone has," said District 12 Tribal Councilor Dora Patzkowski.

District 9 Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh said after the meeting that the Tribal Council is adopting a divorce decree and getting rid of antiquated statutes, some from back in the 1800s, that need to be cleaned up to reflect today's language.

"We are dealing with judges and attorneys who are not following the old stuff, and we need to fix the language," Shambaugh said.

Attorney General Chad Harsha gave a report to the council, saying he had an opportunity, along with Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., to serve on a panel at the National Association of Attorneys General. The panel was moderated by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond.

"The topic was collaboration amongst tribes and state attorneys general," Harsha said. "It was a great opportunity to share the Cherokee Nation's perspective to a large audience, including attorneys general across the country."

The Attorney General's Office recently met with the Department of the Interior to discuss changes to the Native Crimes Act. Part of this initiative is to make federal law consistent with CN law in terms of how crimes are prosecuted with respect to Freedman citizens, Harsha said.

"As you may be aware, there is an old law that applies in federal prosecutions as to what defines an Indian," Harsha said. "That law is pre-civil law era and doesn't reflect changes that we preserved in our constitution in the way we determine citizenship in the Cherokee Nation."

The discussions were very productive, he said, and he looks forward to further that effort and hopefully produce changes to federal law that reflects Cherokee Nation values and equality.

"We are continuing to monitor a lot of litigation — one case is the Stroble tax case in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Still don't have a decision on that case yet," Harsha said.

The case before the OSC was brought by the attorneys for a Muskogee Creek woman, Alicia Stroble. According to a report on 2News Oklahoma, the woman learned she could fill out her state income tax refund form to receive the last three years' worth of payments back.

"It worked for her at first, but in 2022, the Oklahoma Tax Commission reversed its decision," says the report.

An article in Oklahoma Voice, "Oklahoma Supreme Court hears arguments in Muscogee citizen's tax case, Post-McGirt case could have far-reaching impact on Oklahoma tax policies," by Carmen Forman, Jan. 17, 2024, explained how the McGirt ruling changed who was exempt from state income taxes.

Tribal citizens who live and work on a tribe's reservation have been exempt from state income taxes, states the article.

"But the McGirt ruling, which found that much of eastern Oklahoma remains reservation land, affirmed the expanded boundaries of at least eight tribes, potentially allowing more tribal citizens to claim tax exemptions," states the article.

Many people have filed tax protests against the OTC since that ruling, states the article.

If the case isn't ruled in the tribe's favor, several procedural mechanisms will come into play once a decision is rendered, and potentially a different appellant process that could be used, Harsha said.

What's next

The next Rules Committee meeting is tentatively May 30, 1 p.m., at the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex.