Indian Car Tags Face Uncertain Future

Saturday, September 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The state vote to lower the price of car tags might force Indian tribes to drop their tag prices, or maybe even stop issuing tags.

Tribal tags have always been a little cheaper than state tags.

After October 1st, that equation could change, and Indian tribes are planning price cuts to stay competitive.

For Kiowas, Muscogee, Creeks and Comanches, tribal tags have been a source of pride and a savings over Oklahoma state tags.

For the tribes, they're a moneymaker.

Tags are an inexpensive exercise in sovereignty, but if tribes have to drop their prices to be competitive with the state, some tribes may find it's not worth staying in the tag business.

"The councils are going to have to look at the revenue that is coming in and see if it's going to be worth issuing tags for each individual tribe," says Mary Williams, Osage Nation Tax Administrator.

There are 39 Indian tribes in Oklahoma but only 21 of them issue their own tags.

The largest is the Muscogee Creek Nation with more than 3000 tags in circulation.

The Osage Nation has only 437 tags, with prices ranging from $15 to $197, which is significantly cheaper than the current Oklahoma tag prices.

Mary Williams, an Osage, heads an intertribal tax association.

They're helping tribes figure out how to keep their prices competitive when the state's prices change October first.

"We have a lot of Osage people who have state tags that live within our jurisdiction, so it's just a choice they have, an opportunity to have a tribal tag if they wish," says Williams.

But that choice is partly based on pride, and not just savings.

"I enjoy having my Osage tag not only for the price, but because I'm Osage,” says Williams.

The Cherokees are the state's largest tribe by population, but they do not currently issue car tags.

They could have a significant impact if they started, and could drain thousands of customers away from state tag agents.

So all the changes could have positive and negative effects on the tribes.