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The Power to Tax: Addressing Economic (Dis)parity in Indian Country

A Center for Indian Country Development Policy Webinar Series session exploring tribal taxation

September 29, 2021 | 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. CT
Virtual video event

The Power to Tax: Addressing Economic (Dis)parity in Indian Country

The third session of our year-long Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) Policy Webinar Series was focused on increasing understanding of tribal taxation policy and its impact on economic opportunity in Indian Country.

Tribal sovereignty is the inherent power of tribal nations to govern themselves. According to the U.S. Supreme Court,

the power to tax is an essential attribute of Indian sovereignty because it is a necessary instrument of self-government and territorial management. This power enables a tribal government to raise revenues for its essential services … to control economic activities within its jurisdiction, and to defray the cost of providing governmental services by requiring contributions from persons or enterprises engaged in such activities within that jurisdiction. Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130 (1982).

Yet tribal governments face legal limitations and practical disincentives to use their tax authority as an economic tool. These constraints weaken tribal economies and hamper tribes’ ability to provide for the needs of their people.

How do we shift policy conversations about dual taxation beyond zero-sum fears and toward a recognition of tribal sovereignty and good governance? What tactical and long-term tax policy changes need to be made to achieve parity and beneficial economic partnerships? Listen to the conversation as we engaged with tribal leaders and other taxation experts to bring understanding to the topic of tribes’ sovereign authority to tax.

Event Details

Virtual video event


  • Provided a high-level overview of the historical and legal aspects of tribal taxation.
  • Shared examples of the economic impacts and consequences of dual taxation.
  • Showed what real expressions of tax parity and fairness look like in government-to-government relationships.
  • Discussed areas of tax reform and the potential shifts in the taxation landscape relevant to the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision.
  • Shared interim approaches of tribal-state compacting.


  • Kitcki Carroll, Executive Director, United Southern and Eastern Tribes
  • Stacy Leeds, Foundation Professor of Law and Leadership, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; Dean Emeritus, University of Arkansas School of Law
  • Session Moderator: Lynn Malerba, Lifetime Chief, Mohegan Tribe; Co-Chair, Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee; Co-Chair, Subcommittee on Dual Taxation Report
  • Arlan Melendez, Chairman, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony
  • Ryan Nunn, Assistant Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
  • Jean Swift, Interim Chief Financial Officer, Mashantucket Pequot Tribe
  • Jonathan Taylor, President, The Taylor Policy Group, Inc.; Research Fellow, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development; Associate, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy

More on this series: Watch for information on future events in our CICD Policy Webinar Series, which will focus on financing mechanisms, tax tools, and growing the tribal economic field. Catch the highlights of the discussion series, including summaries of the first session, “How Are Tribal Economies Faring Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic?” and the second session, “Successful Strategies in Tribal Enterprise Diversification.”