Cherokee Nation car tags are popular

Monday, November 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Cherokees have a new way to express their heritage, and support the tribe at the same time - through the new Cherokee Nation tribal car tag.

It raises taxes for the tribe - and Cherokees can't wait to buy it. News on Six reporter Emory Bryan says the lines were long all week - for the first week of sales of the brand new Cherokee Nation tribal car tag. The Cherokees are the state's last major tribe to issue car tags, and Native Americans like Herb Wolf are eager to buy them. "I want to stand out as who I am, therefore Cherokee Nation tags help me do that, without me saying hey I'm Indian."

Only people living in the 14 tribal counties qualify to buy the tags - but in the first five days of sales, Cherokees bought more than 600 tags. All are giving up their Oklahoma tags in favor of the tribal plate, and some didn't even wait for the old one to expire. Cindy Callaway, Cherokee Tag Office: "A lot of people I figured would wait until their tags came due, but they've gone ahead and started getting their Oklahoma tags."

Part of the reason may be price. Cherokee tags run from $10 - $20 less than Oklahoma tags. Joan Ellis, Cherokee: "I guess the price tag always plays a part in it, money talks." 30,000 Cherokees who live in Oklahoma qualify to buy these car tags. The low prices make them attractive, but it's the Cherokee pride that has people waiting in line to buy them. Ed Russell, Cherokee: "Makes us feel good, it's going to the Cherokee tribe." Herb Wolf, Cherokee: "The price isn't that big a deal, it's a pride thing."

The tribe requires the same paperwork as a state tag agency - plus a tribal membership card. Along with the tag comes another first - the Cherokee car title. For most people, it's just another batch of government-mandated paperwork, but for Cherokees, buying a tag is an exercise in sovereignty - and a reason to be proud.

The Cherokee's have only one tag office in Tahlequah, but they hope to eventually have one in all 14 counties. The tribe has more than 200,000 members, but only Oklahomans - and only those in Northeast Oklahoma - can buy the tags.

The Sac and Fox Nation became the first Oklahoma Indian tribe to sell car tags back in 1996. Since then, about 60,000 Native Americans in 29 different tribes have bought them. That compares to three million non-tribal tags sold by the State of Oklahoma.

Though the state will lose money as Cherokees buy their own tags, the loss will be a small part of the $530 million the state now makes on tags. The Cherokees plans to use their new income to pay for roads and schools on tribal land.