The usually-opinionated Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been notably silent about the recent mass arrests of water protesters in North Dakota, likely because of his many financial ties to the DAPL pipeline. However, a 1993 video of Trump complaining to Congress about tax breaks given to Native American casino operators may provide some context to how Trump feels about Native American rights.
Democratic Representative George Miller goes toe-to-toe with Trump in the video, saying “Is this you, discussing Indian blood: “We’re going to judge people by whether they have Indian blood whether they’re qualified to run a casino or not?”
Miller was referring to comments made by Trump in a radio interview with Don Imus (who was later fired for referring to a women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes”), in which Trump said “I would perhaps become an Indian myself. I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations.”
Trump proudly confirmed to Miller that his citation was accurate.
“That probably is me, absolutely,” Trump said. “Because I’ll tell you what. If you look, if you look at some of the reservations that you’ve approved, that you, sir, in your great wisdom have approved, I will tell you right now — they don’t look like Indians to me. And they don’t look like the Indians … Now, maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.”
Miller responded by saying “Thank God that’s not the test of whether or not people have rights in this country or not — whether or not they pass your ‘look’ test.”
Trump later railed against the tax breaks that Native Americans receive from the federal government.
“You’re saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have the gaming. So why aren’t you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that the Indians don’t pay tax, but everybody else does? I do.”
Ironically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns have been an oft-repeated criticism from his opponents, with one report revealingthat it’s possible for him to have dodged 18 years worth of federal income taxes after reporting a $916 million dollar loss in 1995.
The legal precedent for Native American tax breaks began in an 1831 Supreme Court ruling which officially labels Native American tribes as “domestic dependent nations.” This designation stems in part from an acknowledgment that most of Native American land was either stolen or cheated from them by European settlers and later the United States government. The ruling allows the tribes a limited amount of autonomy separate from that of the average contemporary American citizen.
The question of tax breaks was addressed more directly in the 1976 case of Bryan v. Itasca County, when a Native American couple fought a small tax on their mobile home in Minnesota which was located on tribal land. This case was also fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which was ultimately ruled in the Bryan’s favor. As a result, it was determined that states do not have the right to tax Native Americans that live on reservations, later paving the way for tribes to open gaming establishments without being taxed, so long as they operate on tribal land.
Finally, it is important to note that while Native American tribes and their wholly owned corporations are exempt from income taxes,individual Native Americans still pay federal income taxes for income made outside the reservation.