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In the spirit of the Centennial Accord and in accordance to SB 6175: “Promoting Government-To-Government Relationships with Tribes” the Department recognizes the inherent authority of tribes to regulate and tax activities within its Indian country.  In addition, federal Indian law and policy supports the rights of self-governance for Indian Tribes.  Under these same principles, the state also has a recognized interest in taxes on non Indians/State citizens.  Promoting understanding of these laws is in the best interest of the state as well as the tribes to make use of the Federal legal framework provided to efficiently find agreement to address areas of potential jurisdictional conflict through government to government consultation and cooperation rather than through conflict and litigation.   

This page is designed to educate tribes and tribal members/citizens about Washington State Taxes.

If you are a non tribal entity and doing businesses in Indian country see our Indian Guide to find what you need to know about doing business in Indian country.

What tribes and tribal members/citizens should know

Tribal members/citizens do not pay state taxes for their transactions that occur in their Indian Country. This means state taxes are inapplicable when:

  • You have a service performed for you within your Indian country.
  • You purchase items within your Indian country.
  • You pay for utilities, e.g., phone, water, electricity, trash collection, that serve your home or business in your Indian country.
  • A product or service is purchased by you and delivered to you in your Indian country
  • You own and operate a business in your Indian country; however, you may be required to collect state retail sales tax from non tribal citizen customers and report and remit the taxes collected.

Tribal tax may, however, be due on any of the above. Ask your tribal government if tribal tax is due.

Documenting your tribal exemption

Washington taxpayers must document the reason a sale is exempt from collection of a tax; otherwise, they may owe the tax. Therefore, retailers may ask you to fill out one of the following forms:

How to get a refund

You can apply to the Department for a refund if the retailer does not provide you an exemption to which you are entitled. To apply for a refund you need:

Property Tax

When tribal lands are held in trust by the Federal Government, that property and the improvements on it are exempt from property taxes when owned by a tribe or its members/citizens. When land is owned by a tribe or its members/citizens in "fee" patent (as opposed to being held in trust by the Federal Government), the property is subject to property taxes.  The tribe may apply for an “essential government services” exemption from the property tax for its land owned in fee.  “Essential government services” is defined as "services such as tribal administration, public facilities, fire, police, public health, education, sewer, water, environmental and land use, transportation, and utility services." In 2014, the Legislature passed Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 1287 to recognize "economic development" as an essential government service for the purposes of qualifying tribally owned property for property tax-exempt status. For more information, see our ESHB 1287 (Chapter 2017, Laws of 2014) page. Complete and submit a Declaration of Tribal Land Used for Essential Government Services.

If a Tribe or Tribal member/citizen sells their house within their own Indian country, real estate excise tax does not apply.

If you have questions about specific property tax situations relating to Indian property, call our Property Tax division at (360) 534-1400.

Syrup Tax

The tax is imposed on sales of soft drink syrup in Washington. The tax is collected by the seller when the syrup is sold in the state, but successive sales of the syrup are exempt from the tax. This tax is not due on sales of syrup to or by tribes, tribal entities, or tribal members/citizens in their Indian country.

Both the seller (tribal or non-tribal) and the tribal buyer are exempt from payment of the tax on syrup sales in the tribe’s Indian country. There is no obligation to collect the tax on sales of soft drink syrup to or by tribes, tribal entities, or tribal members in the tribe’s Indian country. The responsibility for paying the tax does not shift from the tribal buyer to the non-tribal seller when the sale is made in the tribe’s Indian country.

Questions?

For more information, see our Questions and Answers for Tribes and Tribal Members/Citizens. You may also contact Shana Barehand, the Department's Tribal Liaison, at (360) 534-1573, or Linda Miller-Baldwin at (360) 705-6649.