Testimony in support of HB7760 and HB7761- An Act Relating to Real Estate Tax Exemptions for Narragansett Tribal Members

Last updated: March 19, 2024

The Economic Progress Institute strongly supports Representative Henries’ bills HB7760 and HB7761. HB7760 would exempt all Narragansett Indian Tribe homeowners from real estate taxes and real estate tax liens imposed by the state or any municipality. HB7761 would exempt all Narragansett Indian Tribe members owning real estate, whether privately, commercially, in nonprofit corporations or in land trusts, from all real estate taxes. Both bills would also declare the Narragansett Tribe as the sole sovereign federally recognized Indian Tribe in Rhode Island – which is merely a statement of fact.

Before colonization, the Narragansett controlled most of Rhode Island’s 1,214 square miles. Today, they only control 2.8 square miles of reservation land in Charlestown. Rhode Island has a long history of detribalization. In the late 1700s, the state abolished the role of Sachem, or tribal leader, greatly depleted Narragansett hunting and farming grounds, and put pressure on Narragansett tribal members to abandon their traditional ways and instead adopt “white man” ideas of civilization. The Narragansett Tribe also lost much of their remaining land because they were coerced to sell it to pay off debts.1

The Narragansett Indian Tribe finally gained federal recognition in 1983, making them the only federally recognized sovereign tribal nation in Rhode Island. However, tribal members continue to face economic hardship today, which can be seen in extreme income disparities and disparately low homeownership rates. Native Americans have the lowest earnings of any racial or ethnic group in the state, making $0.45 to every dollar a White worker makes. Native Americans make an average annual salary of $24,496 while their White counterparts make $55,040.2 The homeownership rate for Native Americans is again the lowest of any racial or ethnic group at 29.9%. Meanwhile, the homeownership rate among White Rhode Islanders is more than double, at 67.7%.3 These disparities are largely due to the centuries of mistreatment and discrimination imposed on the Narraganset by the state and federal government.

Many Narragansett tribal members have had to purchase land outside of their reservation due to high costs within their reservations and have been forced to pay taxes on those properties. Many members have lost land because they could not afford to pay taxes.
The state of Rhode Island has stolen almost all Narragansett land, and the culture, heritage, and legacy of the Narragansett have been effectively erased in state history and education. The least the state of Rhode Island can do is exempt the tribe from paying taxes on their own land. This is not an unprecedented proposal; the state currently grants tax exemptions to many institutions, such as churches and universities (including Brown University, which has a $6.6 billion endowment and surely does not need such an exemption). The state can and should exempt property taxes for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

HB7760 and HB7761 would improve equity in Rhode Island by improving economic security and home ownership rates for Narragansett tribal members, who have been oppressed in many ways for generations. The Economic Progress Institute strongly urges the passage of these bills.

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