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White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

Supreme Court of the United States

January 14, 1980, Argued ; June 27, 1980, Decided

No. 78-1177


 [*137]  [***669]  [**2580]    MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

 In this case we are once again called upon to consider the extent of state authority over the activities of non-Indians engaged in commerce on an Indian reservation. The State of Arizona seeks to apply its motor carrier license and use fuel taxes to petitioner Pinetop Logging Co. (Pinetop), an enterprise  [*138]  consisting of two non-Indian corporations authorized to do business in Arizona and operating solely on the Fort Apache Reservation. Pinetop and petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe contend that the taxes are pre-empted by federal law or, alternatively, that they represent an unlawful infringement on tribal self-government. The Arizona [****5]  Court of Appeals  [**2581]  rejected petitioners' claims. We hold that the taxes are pre-empted by federal law, and we therefore reverse.

The 6,500 members of petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe reside on the Fort Apache Reservation in a mountainous and forested region of northeastern Arizona. 1 The Tribe is organized under a constitution approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U. S. C. § 476. The revenue used to fund the Tribe's governmental programs is derived almost exclusively from tribal enterprises. Of these enterprises, timber operations have proved by far the most important, accounting for over 90% of the Tribe's total annual profits. 2

 [****6]  The Fort Apache Reservation occupies over 1,650,000 acres, including 720,000 acres of commercial forest. Approximately 300,000 acres are used for the harvesting of timber on a "sustained yield" basis, permitting each area to be cut every 20 years without endangering the forest's continuing productivity. Under federal law, timber on reservation land is owned by the United States for the benefit of the Tribe and cannot be harvested for sale without the consent of Congress.  [*139]  Acting under the authority of 25 CFR § 141.6 (1979) and the tribal constitution, and with the specific approval of the Secretary of the Interior, the Tribe in 1964 organized the Fort Apache Timber Co. (FATCO), a tribal enterprise that manages, harvests, processes,  [***670]  and sells timber. FATCO, which conducts all of its activities on the reservation, was created with the aid of federal funds. It employs about 300 tribal members.

The United States has entered into contracts with FATCO, authorizing it to harvest timber pursuant to regulations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. FATCO has itself contracted with six logging companies, including Pinetop, which perform certain operations that FATCO could [****7]  not carry out as economically on its own. 3 Since it first entered into agreements with FATCO in 1969, Pinetop has been required to fell trees, cut them to the correct size, and transport them to FATCO's sawmill in return for a contractually specified fee. Pinetop employs approximately 50 tribal members. Its activities, performed solely on the Fort Apache Reservation, are subject to extensive federal control.

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448 U.S. 136 *; 100 S. Ct. 2578 **; 65 L. Ed. 2d 665 ***; 1980 U.S. LEXIS 52 ****



Disposition:  120 Ariz. 282, 585 P. 2d 891, reversed.


tribal, reservation, Tribe, taxes, timber, roads, regulations, federal law, state tax, logging, contractors, harvesting, non-Indian, state law, sovereignty, pre-empted, forest, motor carrier, self-government, enterprise, contracts, highways, Appeals, license, fuel tax, federal regulatory scheme, state authority, federal policy, tribal member, taxation

Constitutional Law, Congressional Duties & Powers, Commerce Clause, Commerce With Other Nations, Governments, Native Americans, Authority & Jurisdiction, Transportation Law, Interstate Commerce, Federal Powers, General Overview, Tax Law, State & Local Taxes, Administration & Procedure, Federal Preemption, Taxation, Sales Taxes