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Tribal Delegation Addresses Local Taxation of Fee Simple Land with Department of Revenue

By Joe Morey

News Editor

A state-tribal consultation was held in Black River Falls on Dec. 6, 2023, hosted by the Ho-Chunk Tribe, where LCO Vice Chairman Tweed Shuman, Sec-Treasurer Bill Trepanier and Attorney General James Schlender Jr all attended and one of the topics discussed was the taxation of fee simple lands held by tribal members within Reservation boundaries.

Vice-Chairman Shuman addressed some recent concerns with the Department of Revenue regarding taxation of tribal parcels. The Tribe successfully sued the state of Wisconsin for the imposition of property tax for land that was allocated under the 1854 Treaty. In LCO v Evers, the tribes sued the State and local counties and townships to stop the imposition of property taxes. The Federal court ruled in favor of the tribes. 

“The court held, in part, that the property taxes collected are intended to pay for government services for the properties in question,” Shuman said. “Here the land is under the jurisdiction of the tribe which provides the services for the citizens. Therefore, the state did not have legal basis for imposing the property tax since they were not providing the government services.”

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that taking of taxes by the state and local townships is illegal and should stop.

“Essentially, land owned by tribal members within the treaty boundaries is exempt from state taxation,” Shuman noted. “However, local townships and the county agents have been conducting In Rem proceedings to seize land parcels that “owe” tax.”

Shuman was referring to cases in townships on the LCO Reservation, including Town of Hayward and Bass Lake, along with Sawyer County.

“Going further the townships are presuming that state taxation is in place unless the owners ‘prove’ the parcel is tax exempt,” Shuman stated at the meeting. “These actions are contrary to the court’s decision. Sawyer County should return the parcels that were taken under In Rem and the townships should stop contacting tribal members requiring that they provide paperwork pr forms to prove the parcel is tax exempt.”

In rem is a Latin term meaning "against a thing," which refers to a court's power to adjudicate matters directed against property. In rem jurisdiction is one of the two forms of personal jurisdiction, with the other being in personam jurisdiction.


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