Tribal Leader Barred From Supreme Court Due to Traditional Headdress

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
November 1, 2018US News

A Native American chief was denied entry into the U.S. Supreme Court building because he refused to remove his traditional feathered headdress.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy went to the Supreme Court on Oct. 30 to hear arguments in a case involving his tribe.

The chairman showed up in a traditional Native American tribal leader’s outfit, including buckskin jacket and pants, moccasins, and a large feathered headdress.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy
Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy speaks with Supreme Court security agents regarding his right to enter the courtroom. (JoDe Goudy via Storyful screenshot)

Court security guards informed the chairman that he was not allowed to enter, because his headdress would block the view of other visitors.

They also said the headdress might constitute external influence on the justices by drawing attention to himself, similar to holding up a sign supporting the tribe’s case.

In a video posted online, one of the guards told Goudy, “The main overall thing is we do not want to draw attention to a particular case or to a particular litigant in the case so the court is not influenced by that.”

تم النشر بواسطة ‏‎JoDe Goudy‎‏ في الثلاثاء، ٣٠ أكتوبر ٢٠١٨

The guards told Goudy he would be welcome to enter if he removed the headdress.

The chairman refused to take off the headdress, and was thus denied entry.

Chairman Goudy left the building without protest and prayed for his tribe’s case outside the building.

“Yakama Nation treaty case is on trial at the Supreme Court today. I cannot wear my traditional regalia before the Supreme Court for the reasons that were stated, but I refuse to take off my traditional regalia,” Goudy said in a statement, the Yakima Herald reported.

The Cougar Den restaurant
The Cougar Den restaurant, with gas pumps visible to the left rear of the restaurant, is being sued for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. (Bing maps screenshot)

The Tribal Tax Dispute

The case that Chairman JoDe Goudy hoped to observe involves a store on the Yakama reservation called the Cougar Den, owned by Yakama tribal citizen Kip Ramsey, according to ScotusBlog.

Ramsey imports gasoline from a depot in Oregon, 27 miles from the reservation, for sale at the Cougar Den. Ramsey has never paid fuel tax because of an 1855 treaty between the United States and the Yakama tribe which allows the tribe “the right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways,” implicitly for the purpose of trade.

States do not have the authority to tax Native Americans while they are on the reservation. Therefore, the Cougar Den was able to sell imported (out-of-state) gasoline while paying no state taxes.

In 2006, the state of Washington rewrote its fuel tax laws so that importers were charged a per-gallon fee when the fuel was brought into the state. The state argued that the tax was levied on the value of the gasoline and not on the use of the highways, and thus evaded the 1855 treaty.

Based on the new regulations, in 2013, the Washington Department of Licensing sued Cougar Den for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

However, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Cougar Den did not have to pay the tax since it conflicted with the Yakama’s right to travel treaty with the United States. The state’s Department of Licensing then petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the case.

Courts have often ruled in favor of the Yakama Native American tribe on state taxes and fees, such as logging truck licenses and overweight vehicle fees.

However, the State of Washington argues that it’s the imported fuel itself that’s being taxed, and the use of the highway system is not the trigger for the tax in this case. In addition, the tax is levied on the Native Americans only when they are outside of the reservation.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the tribe, Washington State could possibly rewrite its fuel tax laws again to ensure that the tax is clearly levied on the purchase and possession of the product, and not on the transport—which might lead to another court battle.


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