Bryan v. Itasca County

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this is a very exciting case....much was learned from it

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Winning Nomination

In June of 1972, an Indian named Russell Bryan received a tax bill from Itasca County for $147.95 for taxes levied on his mobile home on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Bryan refused to pay the tax, arguing that state tax and regulatory laws did not apply to an Indian living on an Indian reservation. When the County and the state disagreed, Russell Bryan's legal aid attorneys took their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Following a remarkable argument by the late Bernie Becker, a University of Minnesota Law School alum and professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, Russell Bryan's case prevailed, winning a unanimous Supreme Court decision authored by Justice William Brennan.

The Bryan case became the cornerstone for the legal principle that states cannot regulate the activities of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian reservations without explicit authority from Congress. Soon, high stakes bingo operations began to spring up on Indian reservations in Minnesota and across the country from Florida to California. Years later, when Congress enacted legislation intended to give states a modest role in Indian gaming by requiring tribes to negotiate compacts with states before conducting gaming, Minnesota was the first state to sign tribal-state compacts with tribes.

Since then, Indian gaming has lifted many Indian communities from poverty. And even on reservations where poverty is still common, revenues from gaming has alleviated some of the worst of the suffering. Said one Indian leader: "We had tried poverty for 200 years. We decided to try something different." Indian gaming revenues nationwide now exceed $20 billion a year. The legal authority for the whole industry was established by one stubborn Minnesota Indian who challenged an illegal country tax assessment of $147.95 on his mobile home.

~Kevin Washburn, Minneapolis, MN



Runner-up Nominations

Indian Gaming Regulation Act While not unique to Minnesota, Indian gaming has become an important, if controversial part of the state economy. Because of its impact on reservations and the impact of legal casino gambling it really ought to be one of the 150 most important items in the state's history. - Perhaps MHS could even have a pull-tab booth at the exhibit to help pay the expenses of its development.
~Steve Trimble, St. Paul, MN


Contents

History

Changing the stakes for Minnesota Indians

Nominator Kevin Washburn, associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, writes of a Minnesota legal battle that started small but ended up affecting American Indians nationwide: "In June 1972, an Indian named Russell Bryan received a tax bill from Itasca County for $147.95 for taxes levied on his mobile home on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Bryan refused to pay the tax, arguing that state tax and regulatory laws did not apply to an Indian living on an Indian reservation. When the county and state disagreed, Russell Bryan's legal aid attorneys took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following a remarkable argument by the late Bernard (Bernie) P. Becker, a University of Minnesota Law School alum and professor at William Mitchell College of Law, Russell Bryan's case prevailed, winning a unanimous Supreme Court decision authored by Justice William Brennan in 1976.

"The Bryan case became the cornerstone for the legal principle that states cannot regulate the activities of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian reservations without explicit authority from Congress. Soon, high-stakes bingo operations began to spring up on Indian reservations in Minnesota and across the country from Florida to California. In 1988, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, intended to give states a modest role in Indian gaming by requiring tribes to negotiate compacts with states before conducting gaming. Minnesota was the first state to sign tribal-state compacts with tribes.

"Since then, Indian gaming has lifted many Indian communities from poverty. And even on reservations where poverty is still common, revenue from gaming has alleviated some of the worst of the suffering. Said one Indian leader: 'We had tried poverty for 200 years. We decided to try something different.'

"Indian gaming revenues nationwide now exceed $20 billion a year. The legal authority for the whole industry was established by one stubborn Minnesota Indian who challenged an illegal county tax assessment of $147.95 on his mobile home."


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