LINCOLN (AP) — A federal judge ruled that the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska can collect a liquor tax on business owners in the northeast Nebraska city of Pender.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf ruled late last week in Lincoln that Pender is inside the Omaha Reservation and thus is subject to the tribe’s liquor regulations.
Those regulations require licenses for businesses that sell alcohol and a 10 percent tax on alcohol purchases. A group of Pender retailers sued in federal court in 2007, arguing that they weren’t subject to the tribe’s regulations because the land upon which their businesses sat was not part of the Omaha Reservation in Northeast Nebraska.
In an 1854 treaty, the United States defined the reservation as stretching from the west bank of the Missouri River across the portion of Northeast Nebraska that later became part of Thurston, Cuming, Burt and Wayne counties and Iowa’s Monona County.
In the 1860s, part of the Omaha Tribe’s northern land was ceded to the Winnebago Tribe and, over time, some of the remaining Omaha land came to be owned by non-Native Americans, resulting in a “checkerboard” pattern of land ownership that has caused confusion about tribal lines.
The part that was opened for sale to white settlers included what became the village of Pender.
The Omaha Tribal Court ruled a year ago that the village and the retailers’ locations were within Omaha Reservation boundaries. The case then went to U.S. District Court and Kopf, who had originally referred the lawsuit to the tribal court and issued a temporary restraining order barring the tribe from collecting the tax.
Kopf dismissed various points raised by the plaintiffs and cited a previous case in his conclusion:
“Once a block of land is set aside for an Indian Reservation and no matter what happens to the title of individual plots within the area, the entire block retains its reservation status until Congress explicitly indicates otherwise.”
The plaintiffs failed to show that Congress had done so with the property in what became Pender, Kopf said.
The plaintiffs have asked Kopf to delay implementation of his order to dissolve his restraining order, pending an appeal.