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Taxability of Indian Treaty Fishing Income

Date of Issuance:

Various treaties between the United States and Indian tribes secure to the Indian signatories the “right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” In determining whether income derived from the exercise of these fishing rights is subject to federal tax, the relevant analysis is that employed by the Supreme Court in Squire v. Capoeman, 351 U.S. 1 (1956). Squire held that Indians are subject to the payment of income taxes as are other citizens unless a tax exemption is “clearly expressed” in an applicable treaty or statute. Squire also held that in analyzing a particular treaty or statute applicable to Indians, ambiguous language should be construed in the Indians’ favor. The Tax Court has properly resolved the inherent tension between these two canons of construction by concluding that income earned by Indians from the exercise of treaty fishing rights is subject to the federal income tax.

Updated July 9, 2014