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With Perfect Justice... Nez Perce Treaties -

The Lewiston Morning Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
Thursday, December 2, 1999


Tension fills the air at fee land hearing
By Jodi Walker of the Tribune

NEZPERCE -- In an atmosphere of hostility Wednesday, Linda Pike of the
Idaho Board of Tax Appeals heard testimony in an appeal of denied tax
exemption on fee land owned by a Nez Perce tribal member. 

A decision in the case is not expected until May 2000. 

The appeal was filed by JoAnn Kauffman of Kamiah. She and her husband, Tom
Keefe, purchased a city lot in 1997. The land had been on the county's tax
rolls, but was soon removed because Kauffman is an enrolled tribal member. 

A U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year left Lewis County
commissioners believing the land should be taxed and the annual appeal for
tax exemption was denied for the 1999 tax year. The commissioners, sitting
as the board of equalization, denied the request unanimously. They also
denied exemption on seven properties owned by the Nez Perce Tribe. 

The first stage in appealing the denial is with the Idaho Board of Tax
Appeals; an administrative body made up of three board members from around
the state. Pike conducted that hearing this week and will confer with the
other two members before making a final decision. 

Keefe, speaking on behalf of Kauffman, argued the county's case is not
relevant. The county's documents, which were not made available prior to
the hearing, address the issue of diminishment of the reservation. Keefe
said he and his wife arrived ready to discuss whether tribal members are
eligible for tax exemption, not whether the Nez Perce Indian Reservation
has been diminished. 

He suggested the county's involvement in the North Central Idaho
Jurisdictional Alliance is the motivating factor in the documents. 

"The North Central Idaho Jurisdictional Alliance have launched on this
course to go on a broader assault of the federal treaty," Keefe said. 

The alliance is a group of 23 governmental agencies that question the
tribe's claims of legal authority over non-Indian residents and property
within the designated area of the treaty of 1863. 

Kimron Torgerson, prosecuting attorney for Lewis County, argued
diminishment is relevant because if the reservation has been diminished,
the property in question is not subject to tax exemption even if owned by a
tribal member. 

"If that reservation has been diminished, it is not designated land, it is
diminished," he said. 

The tension in the air was obvious when Torgerson refused to answer
questions by Keefe about whether diminishment was addressed in the county's
document that denied the tax exemption. 

Pike informed both sides the Board of Tax Appeals could hear more issues
than those raised by the county's board of equalization. 

"We are not limited to what happened there," she said. "The case keeps
getting bigger the higher up it goes." 

Because of the misunderstanding of what could be presented, Kauffman has
until Feb. 1 to respond to the county's case. The county will then have
until Feb. 15 to respond to Kauffman. She will then be allowed one final
rebuttal, which is due by Feb. 28. 

An argument ensued between Keefe and Torgerson over what information is
relevant to the case. Torgerson quoted information from a recent opinion
that stated the Nez Perce Tribe does not own the water rights to the entire
Snake River Basin because the reservation has been diminished. That
decision has been announced, but neither party has seen a copy of the
actual opinion. 

"We are practicing law by the newspaper today," Keefe said. 

In response, Keefe added his own docket of court cases that have not yet been 


"The axiom that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing has been
proven here today," he said. 

Torgerson noted he disapproved of the tone of Keefe's remarks. 

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           Tsonkwadiyonrat (We are ONE Spirit)

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