QUESTION: “On a recent trip through Federal Way I came across a private vehicle driving through the city with Muckleshoot Indian Tribe license plates. Since when were Indian tribes allowed to issue license plates to their members?”
– Richard Six Jr., Northeast Tacoma
ANSWER: A little-known, but long established law (RCW 6.16.022) allows recognized tribes to issue the equivalent of exempt license plates used on federal or state government vehicles.
“The Muckleshoot Tribe of King County is one of many tribes authorized by state law to use Native American Exempt license plates for use on vehicles owned by the tribe,” explained Brad Benfield, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing. “Individual tribal members are not eligible to use these plates on private vehicles. Tribal governments have the option of using government exempt license plates issued by DOL or issuing plates of their own design for use on vehicles owned by the tribal government.”
There are certain conditions, including that the vehicle is used exclusively in tribal government service and that the vehicle has been licensed and registered under a tribal law.
Muckleshoot Tribe spokesman Rollin Fatland believes the tribe has used such plates for at least 25 years and that there are only a small number in use.