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SD Supreme Court: Non-Indians Can’t Dodge Day County Taxes on Pickerel Lake Cabins

Here’s how white colonizers operate: invade and steal indigenous land, force the indigenous people onto reservations controlled by the colonizers, lease that reservation land out to white invaders, then offer those white renters the tax breaks the indigenous people are supposed to get for the trouble we’ve caused them. Wow—talk about the lessors of two evils! (or maybe three, or four… but who besides indigenous folks are counting?)

The Pickerel Lake Outlet Association and forty non-Native members (I haven’t met these lessees, but, as in most roomsful of South Dakotans trying to get out of paying taxes, it’s a fair bet they’re all white privilegists) went to court to prevent Day County from taxing the permanent improvements they built on land they leased from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate around Pickerel Lake.

Lake Pickerel, in overlap of Lake Traverse Reservation and Day County, clip from Google Maps, annotated by CAH.
Lake Pickerel, in overlap of Lake Traverse Reservation and Day County, clip from Google Maps, annotated by CAH.

In 2018, Circuit Court Judge Jon Flemmer said these white tax dodgers had to pay up, rejecting their claims of unfair double taxation. In its last ruling before Christmas, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Judge Flemmer’s decision to make the Pickerel Lake plaintiffs pay their fair share to the county for the roads, sewer, law enforcement, and other public services that make lake living lovely.

The non-tribal plaintiffs claimed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 exempts Indian trust land from state and local taxation. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Janice Kern notes that Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act “to rehabilitate the Indian’s economic life and to give him a chance to develop the initiative destroyed by a century of oppression and paternalism.” That law exists to restore and protect American Indians’ economic interests, not facilitate the white man’s eternal effort to evade his own government’s taxes. But Justice Kern didn’t have to plumb that irony, as she says the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the land they lease had been acquired under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act in the first place.

The Day County tax dodgers also tried invoking Article 22 of the South Dakota Constitution, our entering compact with the United States declaring we won’t try to take or govern any Indian land controlled by Congress. But Justice Kern slaps down that avenue of attack, saying Article 22 deals with “land held by Indians, not permanent structures owned by non-Indians.” The feds haven’t claimed any exclusive authority over taxing such non-tribal structures on tribal land, so Day County’s taxes do not violate Article 22 any more than past taxes, upheld by the courts, on the white man’s railroads and cattle running across tribal land.

The Pickerel Lake plaintiffs might have had a shot at a favorable ruling if the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate had intervened. However, Justice Kern notes that the tribe did not intervene in this case. The tribe thus appears not to perceive any threat to its sovereignty from Day County’s taking money out of the pale hides of the Pickerel Lake cabineers.

Some of these cranky white folks paid Day County their taxes in protest; others have withheld payments since 2013. This Supreme Court ruling settles that protest and tells all the white folks on the lake to stop dressing up their tax dodging in Indian costumes and pay their fair share.


  1. jerry 2020-12-28

    The Nashville bombing terrorist was a white guy. Don’t expect as much press from this because there is no perceived threat to white privilege. Only outrage on a terrorist is when they are of color. Same goes for this tax evasion on the rez. Only white indignation when it is reversed. The color lines in our country make it almost impossible to see how we are all the same…Americans.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-12-28

    It’s bad enough to try dodging taxes. It’s worse to try to dodging taxes by exploiting laws meant to protect the Indians from whom we stole the land.

  3. Jake 2020-12-28

    Oh, if only one could be a tax-dodger AND a Draft Dodger and pretend to be rich and smart–then you would be a TRUMP!!!!!

  4. grudznick 2020-12-28

    What about the other people of color who have cabins around this lake? Are we outraged at them too?

    Before you libbies lash out at grudznick for just asking a question, remember that there is no blogger anywhere who hates deadbeats and tax dodges more than I, so I am pleased with this and would in fact encourage an old school Webster-style mob to assemble and hasten the payments.

    Pay your bills, or the collectors will come and your neighbors who are footing the freight for your free ride will find sharp sticks and broomsticks soaked in sticky resin.

  5. Joe 2020-12-28

    To Grudz:

    “The Pickerel Lake Outlet Association and forty ^non-Native members* … went to court to prevent Day County from taxing the permanent improvements they built on land they leased from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate around Pickerel Lake.”

    In northeastern SD, if you’re not Native, you’re white. You could have taken five minutes to learn this detail via googling Census data. But no.

  6. grudznick 2020-12-28

    I could have, Mr. Joe, but I did not because grudznick can be lazy and I knew you’d google it for me, and I don’t believe that “if you’re not native, you are white.” That’s bull, and that’s racist. Get a hold of yourownself, man. You insult every one of the 168 African American people in Watertown.

  7. leslie 2020-12-29

    Pickerel Lake is literally at the bottom of the freezer under the last major ice age North American Ice Cap. Raised in the west I’ve long been fascinated with how fast melting ice formed the Missouri River. I was “lucky” to cross the flooding James River and witness its huge slow power draining eastern SD. And the theory is that Lake Missoula was an ice dam eventually releasing vast floods, some of which covered eastern Montana with hundreds of feet of rushing flood water to the top of Chalk, and Slim Buttes north of Belle Fouche. There were likely several waning events as the turbulent climate refroze and then melted again. Floods heading generally southeast separated around both sides or even over the Black Hills, and in the midst of eroding Badlands, *switched* directions toward the Missouri River.

  8. leslie 2020-12-29

    “…lakes are interpreted to be locations where large blocks of ice buried in glacially deposited debris melted and left depressions….

    These captures of immense south-oriented floods originally heading for the Gulf of Mexico and diversions of the flood water north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean significantly changed Atlantic Ocean currents, causing a major Northern Hemisphere cooling event, which ended the thick ice sheet rapid melt down. The cooling event may have frozen large quantities of north-oriented flood water on the former ice sheet floor (in ice-walled and bedrock-floored valleys like this one in South Dakota) and may have created a wet based thin ice sheet with remnants of the thick ice sheet embedded in it.

    The James River lowland is what remains of an immense southeast and south-oriented ice-walled and bedrock-floored valley carved by south-oriented supra glacial melt water rivers into a rapidly melting thick North American ice sheet. The Prairie Coteau upland to the east and the Missouri Coteau upland to the west represent where ice sheet walls on either side of this giant canyon once stood. Probably when first sliced into the thick ice sheet this southeast and south-oriented ice-walled canyon was comparable in size, if not larger, than any modern-day canyon on the Earth’s surface.”

    Excerpts (see fig 9 Pickerel Lake) from

  9. Richard Schriever 2020-12-29

    leslie – I have long held that the James valley was the original “Missouri” and that glacial melt boundaries are what gave us today more Western oriented main drain. I ponder the dynamics of that scenario every time I drive E->W across the Dakota plains. Like ponderance occurs as I make my annual treks North or South between the now 2 Dakotas over the continental divide on I-29.

  10. JonD 2020-12-29

    Somber subject, but “…lessors of two evils” still brings a chuckle.

  11. leslie 2020-12-29

    Richard: apparently the 1950s-60s USGS topographic maps of most of the US lend themselves to big picture analyses which are/may change Missouri etc river basin origin theories.

    But the time line is all over the place; we know when the Rockies, Black Hills, Appalachians rose. Weight of the continental ice cap likely warped the earth’s crust, then massive rapid melting relieved the weight, raising mountain ranges. How long did the flooding last? In the Black Hills themselves there is evidence leaving gaps between peaks which have these massive flood flows as an explanation.

    Prof Eric Clausen, formerly Minot State Univ, is the fearsome author of this theoretical scholarship.

    It is unremarkable that structural racism may be what distinguishes Pickerel Lake today, in South Dakota.

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