Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Homes in Tonawanda are Getting a Makeover


By Scott DeSmit
sdesmit@batavianews.com
Thursday, December 17, 2009 10:16 AM EST

TONAWANDA SENECA NATION -- Bloomingdale Road is a wide, two-lane road, paved and well-marked, that runs through the heart of the Tonawanda Nation.
It is not at all representative of life on the reservation.
"When you come down the main road, everything looks nice," Neville Spring said as he drove off Bloomingdale and onto one of the many unmarked side roads that course through the 7,500-acre reservation. "Once you get off, you'll see. This is part of the reservation most people don't see."
Spring owns The Rez, a prosperous smoke shop that has expanded greatly since it first opened and now houses a restaurant, craft shop and gas station.
It is the first business people see when they drive onto the reservation from Route 77. Along the road are well-kept houses, some extravagant and others older and simpler but remodeled, with new cars parked in the driveways.
Most of the reservation's 11 cigarette and gas outlets are located on Bloomingdale so the tens of thousands of people who shop here never see what lies elsewhere.
Abject poverty.
Dilapidated trailers, some hidden by thick groves of trees, dot the landscape. Most don't have skirting and others are propped up by cement blocks.
Portable outhouses sit next to many trailers and orange extension cords run across the snowy yards of some to nearby houses.
"Some of these people have no electric and run cords between houses," Spring said. "They have no running water, no heat."
It has long been this way, Spring said.
That is changing.
Tuesday, crews of laborers were everywhere. Gilbert Ground and Russell Poodry stacked wood in a field near The Rez, adding to what was a row of 100 cords of split hardwood.
In the fire hall, Amie Scrogg and her daughter, Jessica Poodry, painted stain on new doors. A crew of men from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation installed drywall in a remodeled home where Elvira Peters will live.
Contractors used heavy equipment to dig for sewer lines.
Behind a shabby trailer where a family of nine lives is a long shed, in the process of being remodeled into a home.
The efforts are among about 25 projects the Tonawanda Seneca Merchants Association has undertaken since September.
Ten of the 11 merchants joined forces and in January began a mission to set aside money to help those in need on the 600-member reservation.
A single merchant would distribute Seneca-brand cigarettes and for every carton sold, 50 cents would go to the association.
So far about $300,000 has been raised, said Marty Ground, association president and owner of 49 Express.
In July the association decided how to spend the money. Association members would embark on a weatherization program.
Applications were handed out to residents, some who were hesitant to participate, Ground said.
"The elders come first," Ground said. "Some of the houses they live in were built long before me. They have dirt floors and no insulation. We said 'how did they live like this for so many years?'
"The idea is simply, you have haves and have-nots and the have-nots should have something. Some were too proud to come forward. We're a proud people and we're not going to put our hand out. But we know that people are proud, too proud to ask for help. We had to convince some people that they could still be proud and part of being proud is knowing that better conditions do exist."
The association has helped before. About 10 years ago merchants got together for similar projects, including building the fire hall and buying a van for the church.
That association disbanded, in part because donations came from each merchant through an honor system. The new system "has a paper trail and everyone knows exactly how much money is being donated," Spring said.
It's working.
"It has exceed our expectations," Ground said. "A lot of this didn't happen before for a number of different reasons but now, it's evident that we have to do it. It's been a long time coming and it doesn't matter why now. It's being done. That's all that matters."
Residents are thankful.
"We've gotten so many thank-you cards already," Ground said. "Now people know the projects are being done and more people are asking for work to be done, whether it's a furnace or just updating a step."
Stonehorse Gorman is thankful.
Tuesday, Gorman, bundled in a yellow rain slicker and rubber boots, spent Tuesday on his roof, using a long-handled ice scraper to remove old shingles.
Despite a temperature of 23 degrees and a bitter wind whipping across the front of his dilapidated house, Gorman was quite happy to be up there.
"I'm going to have a warm house and running water," Gorman said. "The only people to help were the merchants. Not the Chief's Council but the merchants."
A crew of men worked on all sides of Gorman's house, tearing off the siding and installing new.
Some of the installation was old flour sacks, which lay scattered near a roll-off container.
Gorman has lived here on and off for about 25 years. His nieces used to live with him but he has no running water and little heat and they moved away.
"Now they can move back," he said. "This is my Christmas. I'm finally going to have a warm house."
Spring and Ground know that this is only a beginning. So many houses need work that the task is at first daunting but also full of possibilities.
"It's exciting to see things and make it happen," Spring said. "Our intention was to help the community and we are doing that. We have many future needs. There is no limit but it's exciting and we're proud that in hard times that this is being accomplished."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Some Simple Facts About the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act

As you know, in the past, most senators have been afraid to oppose the PACT Act because it has been characterized by its supporters as an anti-tobacco bill and nobody these days has a desire to be viewed as pro-tobacco.

However, it should be easy for us to defend our stance against this bill because, in reality, it is not a tobacco cessation bill. The PACT Act is not an anti-tobacco bill and it is not a tobacco-related health measure. The PACT Act will not make it illegal to sell cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products. The PACT Act will not cause even a slight reduction in the total number of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products sold within the United States. The PACT Act has nothing whatsoever to do with tobacco education or awareness. Although PACT Act supporters have made wildly exaggerated claims that the bill is designed protect kids and prevent terrorist organizations from trafficking in illegal cigarettes, the bill is actually about eliminating Indians from the retail tobacco distribution chain and eliminating competition at the manufacturer level from Indian and small, independent tobacco manufacturers. The bill is cloaked by politically-charged claims in an effort to disguise its true intention; that it is, at its core, a measure designed to reallocate and redistribute governmental tobacco revenues from Indian Tribes to the states and to reallocate and redistribute tobacco profits from Indian retailers and small tobacco manufacturers to non-Indian convenience store owners and “Big Tobacco” manufacturers, like Philip Morris USA/Altria.

Thanks again for your assistance – I hope this helps you get the message out. Time is of the essence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The National Congress of American Indians Issues An Action Alert Broadcast

NCAI Broadcast #09-082

1. Calls Needed to Your Senators This Week: Oppose the PACT Act
(S.1147) - Bill Requires Tribes to Report Tobacco Sales to States

2. SBA to Host Tribal Consultations on Proposed 8(a) Rulemaking

________________________________

1) Calls Needed to Your Senators This Week: Oppose the PACT Act
(S.1147) - Bill Requires Tribes to Report Tobacco Sales to States

Needed:

* Call your two Senators today
Call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121
Ask for their "Indian Affairs" or "Judiciary" staffer

* Call Senator Reid's Indian Affairs Staffer
(202) 224-2251 - Ask for Wendy Helgemo

* Call Department of Interior
(202) 208-6682 - Ask for Bryan Newland

* Ask them to oppose the PACT Act (and "hold" any attempt to
"hotline" the bill) until its sponsors address Tribal concerns.

The Bill's Status:

* The PACT Act (S.1147) has passed the House and is ready for a vote in the Senate. (House version is H.R. 1676.)

* It may be moving through the "hotline" process soon, which is a fast track vote that needs every Senator to consent to the bill. We need your Senator to oppose it.

* The sponsor of the bill, Senator Kohl (D-WI), is negotiating with Senators opposing the bill, but is not addressing tribal concerns.


Summary of Tribal Concerns With PACT Act

* The PACT Act purports to stop cigarette trafficking and cigarette sales to minors.

* Tribes also support these goals, and support provisions to address these goals.

* Unfortunately, as currently written, the PACT Act is too broad. It essentially stops all legal internet tobacco sales by banning use of U.S. mail and forces tribes to report to the ttates on their tribal tobacco sales that are "delivery sales."

* Forcing tribes to report their tribal tobacco sales to the states is a direct infringement on sovereignty and treaty rights, and will also dramatically disempower tribal governments in compact negotiations with states.

* In addition, a ban on internet sales will destroy some tribally-regulated private economies, as well as tribal revenues that support tribal health and education programs. It also sets a very bad precedent for other tribal governments whose private economies could also be targeted by Congress.


Attached:

* NCAI resolution #NGF-09-003
<http://www.mmsend1.com/ls.cfm?r=232921355&sid=8183546&m=888458&u=NCAI&s
=http://www.ncai.org/fileadmin/broadcasts/2009/09_082_NCAI%20PACT%20Act%
20Resolution.pdf> opposing PACT Act until it addresses Tribal concerns.


Please contact John Dossett, jdossett@ncai.org, with any additional
questions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Kaianerehkowa is Not the Great Law of Peace!


Somewhere in our history it became common-place to refer to the Kainerehkowa as the "Great Law of Peace". It sounds benign enough but the fact is that it is wrong. Some expressions just don't translate well especially when a culture-specific concept is involved. The best literal translation would be; "a great good way". Doesn't sound quite as impressive as a "Great Law of Peace" now does it? The concept of a "law" and any variation of the word for "peace" is no where in the word. Our concept of a "good way" or a "good path" is tied to the image of a path worn through our lands by those that came before us. A path that served our people well and even if we strayed from that path, we could find our way back to it to right ourselves again. The differences between the concept of a law that must be followed and a path that has been constructed to make life easier is significant and should not be ignored. Dekanawida and Hiawentha did not make up or create the Kaianerehkowa from thin air. It came from those that came before them. They led us back to the path and made it clear to us that this Great Good Way should be maintained and used to ensure our peace and survival. It was never implied that certain areas of our Mother were forbidden to be travelled on; just that a path had been laid down by the feet of all our relatives that have come before us, should we ever find ourselves lost or troubled. The problem is not that we stray from the path but that we forget our way back to it. This Kaianerehkowa is represented by the Hiawentha Wampum Belt and the words that were spoken into those wampums were to be repeated and discussed often enough so that we would always know how to get back on the right path.
Perhaps it was the best way to explain our ways to the white man that got us calling the Kaianerehkowa the Great Law of Peace. We have referred to it as our Constitution, our government and the greatest democracy the world has ever known. But it is much more and much less. The Kaianerehkowa did not dictate our lives. It was not law or set of laws to follow. It was not a standard to judge the lawful from the unlawful. The Kaianerehkowa uses nature and metaphors to create a timeless path or process to solve problems and address the issues of life. It is neither a bible nor is it all that defines us. It does not create governmental authority over the consent of the governed but rather establishes a natural process for people to govern themselves. It is more than good path; it is a Great Good Way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What next?

Well it took all of about two minutes for law makers in Washington to push the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act through committee and on to the full Senate for vote. I have written extensively on the PACT Act already so I won't belabor the point again.
Native People are right to be pissed. The racist attitudes that prevail in Albany and Washington are consistent and historic in their nature. All those Hope and Change Indians who fell in love with Barack Obama will have an opportunity to see their confidence betrayed when he signs the bill into law, eliminating jobs and crushing the Native economies that have depended on the USPS for delivering legal products for their customers. The reality is that this 44th Rahnatakaias should at least make a token gesture and veto this bill. The Senate has enough votes to override it anyway. Failure to do so will demonstrate how meaningless our lives are to him and his agenda.
So where do we go from here? Do we take any lessons away from any of this? I hope as we go forward that our people can set aside our differences to stand together and fight for our issues. This time we saw Philip Morris standing side by side with health organizations to endorse and, in some cases, literally write legislation against us while we couldn't demonstrate enough unity to pull Marlboros from our shelves. To all those who expected someone else to fight for them, whether it was their Nation or tribal council or their richer neighbor down the road, I hope the next battle pulls you in. We don't need leadership, we need participation. A room full of tribal councilors and prominant businessmen can't compare to the 5,000 who marched on Albany in '97 and why not 10,000. The next time I hope that rather than criticizing how the battle was fought by others or anyone thinking that they knew far too much to consult with others, that we can work together for a common cause and recognize who the enemy is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shutting Down Native Mail Order Tobacco Sales Is Misguided

I've read the reports, I've read the testimonies and I've read the studies. It seems to me that the obvious is being missed in the effort to legislate Native businesses out of existence. Neither the US Postal Service nor the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have the resources or the appetite to make the avoidance of tobacco tax a priority and neither agency considers Native sellers of tobacco to be the criminal element in the contraband tobacco industry. According to the ATF only 1% of their current case load and 2% of their overall budget involves alcohol and tobacco. They are more concerned with violent crimes associated with guns and explosives. The USPS also has higher priorities such as narcotics, child pornography, explosives, exploitation of the elderly and the delivery of malicious substances, including anthrax. The hype over organized crime and revenue loss is made by politicians not by those charged with the responsibility of law enforcement. A study done by the American Wholesale Marketers Association found that the majority of Internet tobacco sales were being done by foreign enterprises. These operations pay no US taxes what so ever and contribute nothing to the US economy. They operate outside the reach of US law enforcement and have no standards for operation. The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act will drive the remote sales to these foreign enterprises. The act provides more prosecutorial tools to shut down operations within the reach of US law enforcement but does little to change things for those operating off shore. The ATF reports do little to associate Native retailers with any organized criminal element, particularly where Native sales are clearly end user sales. Patrick Fleenor with the D.C. based Tax Foundation argues that Native retailers do more to cut out the legs of organized crime and the black market trade than law enforcement. Where black market and foreign sellers operate in the shadows, Native retailers are open and transparent. While respecting the privacy of their customers, their sources and supply are well documented and they operate as legitimate responsible enterprises. Native retailers recognize that there is a criminal element in the tobacco industry at all levels. Over taxing and tax disparity creates the environment for it. Native retailers compete against that element whether it is the criminals at Philip Morris or gangs and street thugs pushing smuggled or counterfeit products. Take our people out of the mix and see what you are left with. Philip Morris pretends to take the high road promoting and writing legislation here in the US for bought and paid for politicians while being called out and fined for smuggling in Europe and laundering drug money in Columbia. When a consumer can't come to a Native retailer anymore, where does he turn? Philip Morris isn't concerned whether their product sell for $10 a pack with $6 or $8 worth of tax applied or for $5 on a street corner as long as they get the sales back that they have been losing to Native sales of Native products. At some point the puppets that sit in Albany and Washington need to recognized the mess they are creating. Not one of them has considered what happens if our legitimate businesses are pulled out of the broad market. Anyone who believes you can pull your hand out of a bucket of dirty water and hope that only clean water will fill in where your hand was, is a fool.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blog Reader, Pridebourne is Back with Agreement and Dissention

Pridebourne's defense of the PACT Act and open resentment to Native businesses make for a spirited debate on the subject. While it is disappoiting that someone, who claims to be Native, is so against our own people; I welcome the diverse opinion as an opportunity to provide more information in my response. These are some of the comments from the earilier post; The Feds Continue to Move Against Native Retailers.
Pridebourne said...
I agree with your take on "walk-in" purchases, especially when they are allowed two cartons at a time. The PACT Act does not regulate walk-in purchases. The PACT Act does regulate state to state commerce. The US "Postal Service is required by law to provide delivery service to the American public when mailable matter is properly presented." The mail-order/internet sales are not "walk-in" purchases, purchased made on our territory. Although the operator may be Seneca, and their operation is in Seneca Nation, their mailable matter is not properly presented as such. The operators utilize NY addresses and, possibly, NY/USA based servers to host their site and transactions. (States have been making strides towards recover internet gambling revenue based on the location of the user or server) Besides the advertised Seneca-branding, operators are representing themselves as domestic NY operations shipping to another state. Even under these circumstances i would agree with your take that it's allowed, since, the US postal service is not required to inspect the packages, other foreign countries can do it, and the importers are required to reporting their imports(over two cartons) to the state. I agree that the responsibility is on the consumer, which is why our businesses have to stop crying foul, racism, discrimination, everytime their exploitive models are questioned. Claiming sovereignty than operating as just another domestic business of NY harms legitimately sovereign businesses. Exporters should respect foreign nations policies.
November 13, 2009 11:30 AM

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...
It is not that consumers are only allowed to purchase two cartons, it is that up to two cartons are exempt from the state use tax (in New York). Whether a purchase is of the "walk-in" variety or a remote or non face-to-face purchase, the point of purchase is still at our retail establishments. Although the definition of "point of purchase" has been batted around, the generally accepted definition is the place where either the funds are collected for the transaction or where the data for payment is collected. It isn't an issue of the use of the mail or internet or phone. It is where the data is physically being collected. Call centers that are not on our land probably cross a defensible line, but server location or definition of cyberspace are irrelevant.
The foul that our businesses and others are crying is the attempt by the state and feds to shift that burden of responsibilty for taxes to our people on our land. There are three issue that never quite get addressed.
1. Why should our businesses be forced to bear the overhead of the state's tax collection on their people.
2. The states and even some federal authorities are trying to claim that all sales to non-natives are taxable. New York does not openly acknowledge that every person in the state can legally use and possess up to two catons at a time with no tax liabilty. New York hides that fact and goes further to imply they have the right to collect taxes on purchases made by out of state consumers as well.
3. The PACT Act clearly is designed to shut down consumers from using the USPS to deliver products purchase from Native retailers. The states have many other mechanisms they could employ to stop non-native remote sales. These tools are not used because they would leave our retailers untouched. The PACT Act specifically makes cigarettes and other tobacco products used predominantly by the middle class non-mailable (products such as cigars and pipe tobbaco that cater to the wealthier clientele would still be mailable). The states need federal legislation to shut us down. It doesn't matter how universal they try to make the law appear, it still is design to disproportionately effect Native business.
November 13, 2009 12:27 PM

Friday, November 6, 2009

"It is important to note that, under current law, cigarettes and tobacco products are legal and mailable"



STATEMENT OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
BEFORE THE
NEW YORK STATE
SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON
INVESTIGATIONS AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
October 27, 2009


The United States Postal Service appreciates the opportunity to report to you on the measures we have taken, in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, to address the matter the Committee has advised us about regarding the distribution of cigarettes through the U.S. mail for which state taxes are ultimately not paid. We affirm unequivocally that the Postal Service has no intention of serving as a vehicle to further illegal activity. We also hope to assist the Committee in its important work by providing a more complete picture of the complexities surrounding this matter.
Initially, it is important to note that, under current law, cigarettes and tobacco products are legal and mailable matter and, therefore, the mailing of cigarettes and other tobacco products is not illegal. In general, the Postal Service is required by law to provide delivery service to the American public when mailable matter is properly presented and the appropriate postage is paid. In that regard, the Postal Service is subject to the statutory nondiscrimination principles of Title 39, U.S. Code, which prevent us from unduly discriminating against users of the mails. Thus, the Postal Service simply cannot deny its services to Postal Service customers on a discretionary basis.
The Postal Service is also mindful of the sanctity and security of the mail, upon which all users of the mail place great value. Generally, the contents of a mailpiece can only be determined by opening and inspecting its contents. Mailable matter sent using First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, or Express Mail service is subject to requirements that it be sealed against inspection. A federal search warrant obtained pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure, or the consent of the sender or addressee, is a prerequisite to opening mail sealed against inspection. Therefore, for these types of mail, a federal search warrant or consent of the sender or addressee would be needed to open the mailpiece.
There are also a number of practical limitations on our conduct about which this Committee should be aware. First, as the Jenkins Act has been explained to us, the cigarette excise taxes which are required to be paid are not reported to the destination states at the time the cigarettes are mailed; rather, reports of sales may be reported to the destination states well after the shipment is delivered. The Postal Service respectfully suggests that postal employees have no way of ascertaining whether the required taxes have been or will be paid when the mail is entered, nor do we believe that the Postal Service should have a role in making those determinations.
Further, even assuming that the Postal Service could seek to prevent certain customers from tendering mail containing cigarettes for which taxes will ultimately not be paid, because mail matter is usually entered in the absence of a contractual relationship with the sender, mailers can circumvent any such restrictions by simply tendering mail sealed against inspection and claiming it contains contents other than cigarettes (e.g., cigars, rolling paper, novelties, etc.) or by redirecting the mail through a third-party intermediary.
One additional challenge for the Postal Service concerns the allocation of resources. Nationwide, the Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service, has approximately 1,450 inspectors. Their work involves a broad range of activities such as protecting Postal Service employees and property, narcotics trafficking, child pornography, explosives in the mail, mail theft, and exploitation of the elderly through mail fraud. The Postal Inspection Service also responds to thousands of incidents each year involving unknown substances found in the mailstream, which is not taken lightly in the aftermath of the fatal Anthrax attacks of 2001. While we understand the State of New York has significant concerns with regard to the collection of taxes for cigarettes sold to purchasers within the state, we must balance the Postal Service’s resources directed at this activity in light of many other pressing priorities.
Notwithstanding these complexities, the Postal Service is committed to working with state, local, and federal officials to combat illegal tobacco transactions. The Postal Service has taken several steps using our existing authority to address this issue, such as issuing an internal policy on dealing with business customers who mail cigarettes, information sharing with foreign posts, and collaborating with ongoing law enforcement initiatives to prosecute illegal activity.
Recently, the Postal Service re-issued its internal policy titled, "Dealing with Business Customers Mailing Cigarettes." The document was disseminated to our sales and customer service employees and instructs them to adhere to the policy when dealing with mailers of cigarettes. The policy states that the Postal Service cannot knowingly permit the mails to be used to further activities deemed unlawful by state and federal authorities concerning the distribution of untaxed cigarettes. In that regard, if a Postal Service employee acquires reliable information (such as information from law enforcement, copies of the mailers’ solicitations, or website promotions) that a mailer is using the mails to send cigarettes to consumers for which no destination state excise tax is paid the employee is instructed to do the following:
• Refrain from soliciting new business from the mailer.
• Refrain from placing routine sales calls or making site visits to the mailer.
• Refer any inquiries by the mailer about the acceptability of untaxed or undertaxed cigarettes to the Pricing and Classification Service Center (PCSC).
• Advise the Division of the Inspection Service serving their area if they acquire information about routine shipments of untaxed or undertaxed cigarettes to consumers.
Another step the Postal Service took was to collaborate with experts from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), State Department, and Treasury Department in the development of a comprehensive listing of relevant restrictions on the importation of cigarettes into the United States. We led the effort on this initiative because state attorneys general and federal law enforcement officials had previously provided information demonstrating that there had been considerable growth in unlawful cigarette sales and importation practices associated with cigarettes shipped from abroad.
As a result of the collaboration with other agencies, in April 2006, the United States was able to distribute a circular to postal administrations throughout the world to enable them to educate their customers about the requirements for sending cigarettes to the United States. The circular explains that the importation of cigarettes into the United States is generally prohibited, and that imported cigarettes would be subject to forfeiture and destruction. It also contains detailed descriptions of importation requirements.
A permanent record of these restrictions is now contained in our prohibited items country listing, which foreign posts use to identify prohibitions for traffic destined to the United States. We believe that by updating the listing, we may stem some illegal traffic from abroad, thereby aiding law enforcement and tax collection agencies.
On another front, the Postal Service routinely cooperates with federal and state law enforcement officials to reduce illegal cigarette and tobacco sales and facilitate the prosecution of such activity. For several years, we have had a series of meetings and correspondence with the state attorneys general, individually and through the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), in which we exchanged information on the scope of the problem and discussed ways of working together to address illicit sales of cigarettes.
We have had similar interactions with the Justice Department and have participated in dialogues with U.S. Attorneys, the ATFE, and others to develop strategies for dealing with illegal tobacco sales. The following summaries describe how we have worked with these entities and other officials to facilitate enforcement:
• In 2006, Postal Inspectors worked with the ATFE and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate a scheme involving cigarette taxes. The investigation determined that the scheme ran from 2002–2007. The defendant in the matter defrauded the States of New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Arizona by unlawfully distributing cigarettes that came from the Seneca Nation in New York State. In July 2008, the defendant entered a plea to information in U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, and is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2010. In this case, a list of the cigarette purchasers was provided to New York tax officials. Based on the information shared with State authorities, the City of New York filed a civil complaint in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the promoter (City of New York against Lloyd Long, No. 08-CV-9052). On March 12, 2009, a Judgment and Order of Default was entered against the promoter in the amount of $1,311,390.
• In an investigation in New Jersey, Postal Inspectors discovered that individuals had used postal money orders to purchase $4.5 million worth of cigarettes, structuring the transactions to avoid detection by state tax officials. The targets of the investigation purchased cigarettes over the Internet from Indian reservations in New York, transported the cigarettes to New Jersey, and sold them in restaurants and stores in New Jersey without paying the state sales tax. The Postal Inspection Service served as the lead agency on the investigation, cooperating with the ATFE, New Jersey Department of Tax and Finance, New Jersey State Police, and IRS. In 2007, five individuals were arrested and charged with money laundering, as well as violations of the Jenkins Act.
• The Postal Inspection Service referred the activities of three members of one family to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office which ultimately led to a Grand Jury indictment in September 2009. The family members allegedly evaded paying Massachusetts excise tax by illegally selling unstamped cigarettes. The Postal Inspection Service had tracked a shipment from a Seneca Nation tobacco distributor to one of the family members. The joint investigation in this case also involved assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (MDOR) and ATFE. In August 2008, the joint investigation executed search warrants that seized more than 12,000 cigarettes in packs that were not properly marked with state excise tax stamps. It is estimated that the alleged activities defrauded Massachusetts of nearly $163,000 in unpaid cigarette excise taxes.
• In another case, the Postal Inspection Service along with ATFE and MDOR, provided assistance to the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney’s General’s office by executing search warrants in January of 2009. This resulted in seizure of a shipment of unstamped cigarettes that were sent to a convenience store retailer from the Seneca Nation. In September 2009, the retailer was indicted by a Grand Jury for knowingly selling cigarettes that were not properly stamped with the Massachusetts excise tax between September 2007 and January 2009. It is estimated that the retailer defrauded Massachusetts of over $150,000 in unpaid taxes.
The Postal Inspection Service has provided similar assistance to law enforcement agencies on other cases in New York and New Jersey, which are the two busiest states for these activities, as well as in Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The Postal Inspection Service has a number of other ongoing investigations that involve untaxed cigarettes obtained from Native American reservations as well as counterfeit cigarettes being imported into the United States.
In closing, be assured the Postal Service remains committed to collaborating with law enforcement to deal with the problem of distribution of untaxed cigarettes through the mail. Within our existing authority and resources, we have taken steps to assist ongoing law enforcement efforts and will continue to do our part.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The PACT Act Debate is Back

This is a comment I posted back in May in response to a comment that challenged whether the PACT Act was anti-Indian legislation. When is a Fight Worth Fighting?
Any legislation that disproportionately targets the avtivity of Indians is anti-Indian. Every city, county, state or country with a distinct regulatory advantage markets that advantage. The point of sale for mail order and internet sales is where the payment is made or information is gathered for payment. The Native retailers conduct these sales on our own sovereign land. These sales are not taxable. Whether there is a tax liability for where and by whom the product is consumed is an issue for those consumers and the states they live in. Interestingly, every state has a forebearance or allowance policy toward a limited amount of untaxed product being consumed in their jurisdiction. Native retailers are no longer just selling the same product as the non-native convenient stores. They are marketing Native produced and branded products available for sale only from Native stores. The prime commercial markets in the US and Canada were essentially stolen from our people. The internet and mail leveled the playing field for market access. In spite of the fact that our people were pushed to remote, out of the way territories, our people managed to move from retail of established tobacco products to marketing, distribution, manufacturing, importing and the elevation of internet and direct marketing sales. Direct to consumer sales eliminates black market, including organized crime and of course those dreaded terrorists. Mail order tobacco sales is also one of the few positive blips on the US Postal Service radar. Delivery, marketing and payment have all provided a much needed boost in revenue for the USPS. The PACT Act will not only strip this revenue away but it will add expense to the USPS due to enforcement of the act. Current resources used on such issues as pornography (including child porn) and hazardous materials (including biological weapons) will be stretched to prevent the mailing of legal products like cigarettes and chew. No one seems to be interested in taking a look at what happens when tobacco becomes illegal to mail. Some would have you believe that a few rich Indians will just be less rich and that the states will make up huge revenue shortfalls with the additional taxes collected. Here are some of the things not being considered: the sucking sound from the revenue lost to the economies around Native land, a thousand lost jobs, opportunities for a resurgents in the black market, domestic and foreign enterprises that will mail anyway, the straw that breaks the back of the USPS and more resentment and hostility by those of us who have plenty to be pissed about.

The Feds Continue to Move Against Native Retailers

View the post from May 22, 2009 and the comments that follow.
The PACT Act Will Not Necessarily End the Native Tobacco Business, It Will Criminalize It!
The side bar has a link to a Call to Action flier and information sheet. Mail it, email it and hand it out to all customers of our Native retail outlets.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Testimony of Jed Morey, of the Long Island Press, to the New York State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations

October 27, 2009
New York is in dire financial straits and its politicians are seeking refuge through taxation to cover up their own negligence. They claim that the sale of cigarettes to non-natives from the reservation is unjustly enriching Native Americans and is contrary to established law in New York. Of course none of this was a real issue until our government ran out of money. So while the state is struggling to maintain solvency, several reservations are gaining economic momentum. In essence, you tolerate them so long as they’re poor but now that the tables have turned your true colors are showing.

When billions of dollars from the landmark tobacco settlements were dispersed among the 46 states enjoined in the lawsuit, New York did what it does best: took the funds in a one shot, wrapped them up in a fancy Wall Street financial instruments and bonded out our future. To make up for the further budget shortfalls the state hiked taxes on cigarettes and artificially inflated the price of tobacco thereby creating a disparity in pricing on and off the reservation and causing a rift between retailers and the tribes. New York continued to maintain its pattern of reckless spending and found itself on the wrong side of this recession.

Long before the cigarette industry was booming on reservations, Indian nations sold cigarettes as a means of basic survival. Now they are being persecuted for succeeding. Unfortunately, the very unsympathetic status cigarettes hold in our society casts a dark cloud over the critical issues of taxation and jurisdiction and places in doubt the immutable right of self determination these tribes enjoy.

Instead of working with tribal leaders the government inquires about the possibility of obtaining federal law enforcement support against these nations and crafts unilateral policies that directly affect tribal lands. But without tribal consent these unilateral policies are unenforceable and exist in a vacuum; no different than attempting to legislate activities within France or Canada.

Mr. Benjamin who testified today actually introduced legislation to abolish the Poospatuck reservation writing that it “seems to be nothing more than a criminal enterprise.” Mr. Benjamin would exile a people who Judge Matsumoto, in her October 8th decision of this year, found to have “met its burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence” that they are recognized as belonging to a sovereign nation. What Mr. Benjamin and this panel don’t understand is that the very nature of sovereignty, by definition, holds that no legislative decision, judicial decision or executive decision outside reservation land has any bearing on activity conducted on reservation territory. The Supreme Court of the United State of America has repeatedly ruled that Indian Nations are sovereign nations recognized by, but not governed by, the Constitution of the United States.

In the end this is not about taxes, bootlegging or the black market. This is an issue of sovereignty and you are out of your jurisdiction, out of your league and out of your mind if you think these nations or its leaders will give up their rights with respect to it.
So before you examine the operations of the Longhouse, I suggest you turn your attention to cleaning up your own house.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Hearing


On October 27, 2009 the New York State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations held a hearing in New York City to discuss enforcement of State taxes on Native sales of tobacco products.


OK then. That was interesting. Without question the Senecas stole the show. JC Seneca did a fair enough job delivering the message that we would neither be forced to collect State tax nor pay it. A few opportunities were missed, but by and large the ignorance and racism demonstrated by those that assemble in Albany was illuminated and pushed back. I think we were hurt in the areas of unity with other Native communities both by the words that were said and the fact that the Seneca entourage only stayed for the SNI testimony. Everyone knew the SNI would put a major emphasis on their regulatory system. In doing so it was clear that the SNI representatives would be trying to draw a distinction from the other Native communities. That could not have been made more obvious with the their boasting of their prohibition against conducting business with non federally recognized tribes. This was particularly offensive given the fact that the hearing was in New York City which is in the back yard of those Native communities on Long Island that do not have BIA recognition and, as a city, has been leading the fight against all of us. I am sure that I am not alone in my concern over the Seneca Nation participating in joint sting operations with State and federal regulators against our own and then bragging about it here.


Another opportunity was missed in addressing the Attea case. The SNI practically stipulated that the case supported the State's position rather than challenging its interpretation. See Attea is Not a Landmark Case Against Indians posted here back on April 21st.


The State senators seemed to be obsessed with the absence of court interpretations of treaties and indeed the SNI representatives also seemed too focused on treaties as the source of our rights and liberties. While the State tries to challenge any right or freedom that is not explicitly defined in treaty, the voices from our side failed to turn the table and assert that our sovereignty is not established in treaties and that it is the State that cannot establish any legal foundation for taxing us. These are not "Indian" treaties. They are US treaties. They were concocted by them, they were drafted by them and they were ratified by them. While all of these US treaties went to lengths defining what would remain of our lands, they merely affirmed and acknowledged our inherent and obviously pre-existing rights to and on our lands. They gave us nothing that could remotely be defined as "treaty rights", rather they defined the obligations that the US would incur for the transfers of lands. Included in those obligations were health and education services, certain payments and security against foreign and domestic oppression. Our right to trade and commerce as well as any other activity commercial or otherwise was never surrendered to anyone. It apparently never occurred to the State Senate committee members that the reason there is no New York State court cases relating to these issues is because, ultimately the State knows it can't win and we wouldn't concede if they did. There seems to be no sense by those who cannot understand that we don't just choose to rely on our rights as they are handed down through generations rather than relying on a white man in a black robe to tell us, but that it is our obligation. This obligation is to those that will come after us and it is to keep others from imposing their will on our people.


In an effort to appear cooperative at some level there also seemed to be too much concession on other tax issues. When pressed about income and other taxes there was no mention of those that challenge those tax obligations. It is not a broadly accepted notion that some taxes apply while others don't. Even many of those that pay certain taxes, do it under protest and look to the day that we are better situated to fight those as well. I think it is difficult to find any Native person who actually believes that any State of federal taxes should ever be levied against us.


It was encouraging to hear a few State senators go on the record supporting our position. It was not missed by anyone that the clearest and most unequivocal support came from one of the only black Senators, Senator Adams, at the hearing. Senator George Maziarz should also be commended for clarifying several points that were being mischaracterized and for standing up to a fellow Republican Senator (Golden) with his ignorant rants that demonstates some of the arrogance and racism that gathers in Albany. Senator Maziarz was also clear in his support and, as a Senator, offered the only first hand knowledge and genuine concern for the Native people living near the district he represents (WNY). I was also impressed by the comments of Jed Morey, a writer from the Long Island Press. Everyone should take the opportunity to review his brief statement. It is worthy of sharing and most of the Native people that attended left before his opportunity to speak.


It should be noted that while some travelled from Seneca territory to New York, a small dedicated group of predominantly young men tended a fire beside the New York State Thruway where it passes through the Seneca territory of Cattaraugus. Signs, placards and flags, including several Warrior flags were displayed for motorist and passersby to observe. The number of horns blown in support of the Native position on this issue indicated the support is wide. The fire was maintained through the night as were the constant sounding of support from the Thruway motorists. It is an easy judgement to make that far more people witnessed the demonstration on the side of the Thruway than will ever hear the rhetoric espoused at the hearing. All those who put in time at the fire should be commended.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can They Really Be That Stupid?

It is amazing how many times you can hear a tribal, state or federal official say something stupid without anyone ever challenging their ignorance. A case in point was US Senator Charles, "Chuck", Schumer (D-NY) spitting out the old tired comments on the news about how Indians have no right to sell their products to non-Indians and that the state is losing millions, perhaps even billions to our illegal sales. Oh yeah, and there is the one about how the US Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state could collect taxes from our sales. The worse part about false comments like these is that they are not just said by state and federal officials, they are repeated by tribal councilors and their legal counsel as well.
My question is: are they really that stupid? After all these guys are educated, in fact most of them are lawyers. So why do they misquote and misinterpret laws, court rulings and basic social, political and legal points all the time. I honestly believe that they know what they are saying is wrong.
Chuck can't really believe it is illegal for us to market our regulatory advantages to consumers out of our territories. Every town, city, county, state and country work to develop and market trade and commerce advantages. He can't possibly be saying that his people can sell to our people, but we can't sell to them. Something else must be at play here.
The Governor can't be so stupid to suggest that the state law that allows everyone in New York to have in their possession up to 2 cartons of untaxed and unstamped cigarettes, allows those people the opportunity to buy those unstamped cigarettes anywhere available but from Native retailers. The State's first black governor can't be that racist.
Surely out of all those people who keep suggesting that there exists some landmark Supreme Court decision that allows New York State to interfere with Native commerce, that someone would actually read the case (DEPARTMENT OF TAXATION AND FINANCE OF NEW YORK et al. v. MILHELM ATTEA & BROS.). If just one of the television or print journalist that keeps referring to this case would read it then perhaps he would offer the correct interpretation which is that the non-native wholesaler, Attea, lost his challenge against the State where he claimed his license to do business with Indians, issued by the BIA, superceded State law. Sorry folks, nothing to see here. No "we got those damn Mohawks and Senecas" ruling here. Just another case where a bunch of overly assimilated Indians out west were beat up in their state courts and had their cases cited in a case that, at best, references us.(See the post; Attea is Not a Landmark Case Against Indians)
The bottom line is that while NY State may tax the purchases made by its residents for use in the state, it still can't tax our sales. Let's try saying it together. The State may be able to regulate the actions of its people (the purchase or use), but not the actions of our people (the sale). But again, let's be clear; the State allows all its people to purchase up to 2 cartons of unstamped cigarettes for use in the State. The burden to remit a tax for purchases beyond 2 cartons is and always has been on the consumer. The State even has a form for it (Form CG-15). Now a logical person would assume that if a New York resident could buy 2 cartons from North Carolina or the Philippines that he could certainly stop by the nearest Native retailer for that purchase as well.
So what about that Billion dollars the State wants and needs so desperately? Well as the governor's request to the US Attorneys for a threat assessment will reveal, it doesn't matter how much they inflate a revenue leakage number. Any attempt to shut down the Native cigarette business will cost money, not make it. There is neither a guarantee nor a likelihood that even if the State eliminated reservation sales all together without a fight that any thing close to the numbers the State claims to be losing would be realized. Driving consumers to out-of-state and black market sales will surely have a much bigger negative impact to the State than anything they imagine happens on our territories. Oh how the State must long for the days when only the Mob could deliver cheap cigarettes to consumers.
Getting back to the gullibility or complicity of tribal leaders. Just as I don't think the non-native voices weighing in on this subject are that stupid, I don't think the Native ones are either. Of course the only Native voices we are allowed to be heard are the tribal government voices. These guys are so conflicted they can't help but come across as ignorant. On one hand they want to kiss ass for a Casino in the Catskills. On the other they are trying to validate their existence as legitimate government officials by proving they can assert authority over their people. Their own self loathing will not allow them to admit the obvious; that they are powerless. The beauty of our sovereignty is that we are born with it. We don't win it in an election or have it granted to us by the federal or state government. Not one of these tribal councilors has the courage to say that every business on our land is a Nation business. Every Native retailer operates as a sovereign entity because our sovereignty is not vested in the state nor does it exist as a common right but rather an individual birthright. This simply doesn't seem sophisticated enough for tribal officials. They want to be just an Indian version of those who are trying to harm us. But the reality is that all the rhetoric from these guys means nothing. It is the People that the State is scared of. It is the People that will shut the Thruway down. It is the People that will block bridges. And it will be the People that will stand toe to toe with the police if the State tries to force its will on our territories. I doubt Jim Ransom or Barry Snyder will rank very high as a threat to the State. And certainly their attorneys, Dale White and Rob Porter will be looked at more as assets and team players of the State, definitely not a risk to them.
So what is going on here? Is it really just a case of these guys trying to repeat something enough times to make it appear true or is it all just posturing for something else? The other thing that Chuck mentioned the other night was how so many other "tribes" have entered into agreements with the states. If the States really had the right to shut us down why would they want a compact? I think it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that a Catskill casino is at the root of much of this. Gaming certainly has played a role in shifting control of our land and people to the states, but gaming isn't the end game; the control is. I believe that the Mohawk and Seneca People have been the symbol of resistance, not only for Native people in the US and Canada, but world wide. The fact that neither US law nor their enforcers can reconcile our existence is a significant thorn for them. There are plenty of those "tribes" that drank the Kool-aid and entered all kinds of compacts. While they spent the last few years regretting that decision our territories continued to fight and maintain a strong private sector economy. Perhaps they should be asked how things have worked out for them. In spite of the fact that gaming compacts were leapt at in Mohawk and Seneca territories, the State still has not been able to control the people, not even by proxy through the tribal councils. For those of us that have been at this for a long time we see a constant effort by the State and their tribal counter parts (although I question how counter they really are to the State) to wheel and deal. By doing so the tribal councils get more authority and power over Native People and their land(and often more wealth) and the people lose more distinction as Native people. The State gets revenue and that control they so desperately seek, albeit through the tribal councils. I have no use for any so-called tribal leader that would suggest to the people to let them handle it. That this is a Nation to Nation issue. Or that these compacts are proof or some kind of expression of the "Nation's" sovereignty. This is about our freedom. The Mohawk and Seneca People can't allow themselves to be manipulated into becoming a symbol for concession. Too many others count on us. There is a reason why New York hasn't been able to get tax compacts agreed to. Because we never gave authority to anyone to sell us out. We need to keep it that way! I don't think any of these guys are stupid enough to believe what they are saying is true, but I do believe they are stupid enough to think they know what they are doing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is the "Mohawk Council of Kahnawake" trying to Hijack the Longhouse?

Last year when 60 Minutes exposed a cheating scandal that involved Mohawk Internet Technologies, an IT/gaming company that is licensed and regulated by the band council of Kahnawake (the MCK), Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes asked band councilor, Mike Delisle, if internet gambling was illegal in Canada. Delisle said Internet gambling is illegal in Canada, but told Kroft, "We're not Canadians. We're a member of the Haudenosaunee Five Nation Confederacy. And we're Mohawk, Kanienkehaka, people. We're not Canadian."
What Delisle failed to mention is that the band councils exist as a function of Canadian law. The MCK is not the Kanienkehaka. It is not Haudenosaune. It is an administrator for the Canadian government. They are funded by Canada, they are regulated by Canada, their police and courts uphold Canadian law and they administer Canadian ID cards. And although I'll admit I have never seen it, I'll bet there are more than a few Canadian flags flying around their offices and chambers. But when push comes to shove the MCK cannot defend itself on its own existence, all of a sudden they are Haudenosaune; People of the Longhouse.
These guys are realizing, like Jim Ransom did of the Saint Regis tribal council, that these tribal and band councils ain't shit. When Saint Regis tried to fight OSHA violations by the US Department of Labor against their casino in Akwesasne (which bears the name, "Akwesasne Mohawk Casino"; no mention of Saint Regis) they received a slap in US Federal court when they were ruled against with the court telling them they could not use Mohawk treaties because they were not the party to them. The court literally said that the Saint Regis Tribe could not claim to be the Mohawk Nation.
This kick in the groin to tribal and band councils did not get much attention, but some noticed. The MCK noticed, so inch by inch the band council tries to reshape itself into the Kanonhsesne; the Longhouse. When a Mike Delisle or a Joe Norton hide behind the sovereignty of the Kanienkehaka in this public manner it is fairly easy to call them out. But what is going on behind the scenes?
Even this judicial reform nonense is a concern. There has been a big push to incorporate concepts from the Kaianerehkowa in the tribal court system that will be uniquely "Mohawk", although the court's authority will come from Canada. The Kaianerehkowa could not possibly be bastardized enough to accommodate creating individuals or a panel to sit in judgement of others. And for what, so property can be "legally" seized from individuals as judgements? No way! Band councilors have been quoted as claiming that the Great Law is theirs too. I say "bullshit!" These band and tribal councils have abandoned the Kaianerehkowa as well as their birthright as Kanienkehaka. They get their authority from Ottawa and Washington, not from our history, not from our ancestors and not from the instructions handed down over time immemorial. Just like the rest of Canada and the United States, these tribal and band councils know where true sovereignty lies.
So how do you regain a birthright you have surrendered? These guys either think they can just repackage themselves as Kanienkehaka or worse yet can earn brownie points from their custodians by undermining the Kanonhsesne.
Let's be clear the Kaianerehkowa does not create authority or institutions. It provides a process for sovereignty to stay where it belongs, with the people. Band councils are for people that do not want to accept responsibility and simply want someone else to do the work that they are too lazy or too useless to do themselves. Abuse of authority comes from delegation of authority. Our Longhouses need to become more active and they need to resist any incursion from these imposers and impostors.

The Apology is a Joke

There are so many problems with the US Senate's "Apology" that it is hard to know where to start. I guess I'll start with how it was even passed. They had to attach it to a defense appropriations bill. This is where law makers jam in a bill that otherwise can't survive on its own. Makes for a real sincere apology. Add to that all the disclaimers for use in law suits (since we are being so polite, we'll thank the Supreme Court for that one and we'll apologized once again to the Hawaiians). Then we add to the hypocrisy by considering the work in congress to kill the Native tobacco business. States have been putting the squeeze on our nontaxable commerce for decades if not centuries. Congress and the Supreme Court provide them with backhanded ammo and then want to apologize.
An apology is little more than putting something on the record to ease "white guilt". They are as meaningless to us as they are to Black people, Hispanics, Hawaiians, Asians or anyone else in line for an apology.
Hey, Congress, want to do something meaningful? Try wiping out a few of your acts instead of attempting more. Get out of our Casino businesses, our tobacco businesses and every other area of commerce we have or will be in. Stop interfering with Native to Native trade and our international commerce. Get out of our politics. Stop trying to tag us with your ID's. Stop trying interfere with our travel; stick your homeland security where it belongs. Fulfill your financial obligations with education and health care and stop fighting us on reacquiring lands that you were complicate in stealing. This should keep you busy for a while.
Oh yeah, I apologize if I seem less than grateful for all the work that is done on our behalf.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Smoke-Shop Signals of the Unkechaug


Mayor Bloomberg has declared war on a tiny Long Island Indian Tribe over cigarette taxes. Their chief says it’s merely a chapter in a sad 400-year story.

By Spencer Morgan - NewYork Magazine


When Thomas Jefferson visited the “Unquachog Indians,” in June 1791, he noted that the tribe “constitute the Pufspatock Settlement in the town of Brookhaven, South Side of Long Island.” The settlement was conveniently located in the backyard of his friend William Floyd’s plantation, where Jefferson and his longtime wingman James Madison happened to be crashing. Jefferson made an effort to document the language of the tribe, many of whose members tilled his host’s fields: “Cow … Cowsen; Horse … Hofses; Sheep … Sheeps; to cut with an axe … poquetahaman; handsome … worecco; ugly … nechowuchayuk.” He concluded: “There remain but three persons of this tribe who can speak its language: They are old women, from two of these, brought together, this vocabulary was taken, a young woman of the same tribe was also present who knew something of the language.”
Harry Wallace, the current chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation, trying to learn at least an approximation of his native tongue, has an Algonquian-language app on his iPhone. “I’m gettin’ there,” he said from behind a large cluttered desk in his office, a small cedar-paneled lodge set behind Poospatuck Smoke Shop and Trading Company in Mastic, Long Island. It was early August; 65 miles away on Manhattan Island, Mike Bloomberg—modern-day equivalent of the Great White Father—was not happy with Chief Wallace and the Unkechaug. This is because the chief and his tribe were making big bucks selling millions of packs of cigarettes tax-free, many of these to residents of New York City, which imposes a $1.50-per-pack tax of its own. Exactly how many New Yorkers were getting smokes under cover of the Unkechaug is not easy to answer. An Independent Budget Office report estimated that in 2006, around 207 million packs were bought by city smokers. No tax was paid on a quarter of these (only a fraction of the untaxed smokes were bought on Indian reservations). But Bloomberg has declared war on smoking, and wherever there is smoke, he wants his cut. So last September, the city filed a motion in federal court against a group of Unkechaug retailers, claiming hundreds of millions in lost city tax revenue.
Wallace was still recovering from last night’s “sweat”—several important dudes, dome-shaped lodge, a pit of hot rocks in the middle, much perspiration, a prayer song or two—at an undisclosed location. It was the culmination of a week of mourning for Benny Miller, a 22-year-old tribe member who died in a motorcycle accident. His death mobilized Unkechaug near and far to return to the reservation, to mourn and sing: the honor song during the wake, the various burial and prayer songs throughout.
Geronimo’s refrain, “They’re not satisfied until they get all of it,” is never far from Chief Wallace’s mind. But signals were still pointing toward victory for the Unkechaug: Only weeks prior, a New York State Appellate Court ruled that the Cayuga Indian Nation could continue selling untaxed cigarettes to non-Indians. He pushed a button on a speakerphone connected to the smoke shop. “Can I get two cups of coffee in here?” he said in a baritone. The chief is 55, broad-shouldered, and has long thick salt-and-pepper hair, which he wears in a tight ponytail. Various New York State Bar plaques line the walls. It was Wallace who opened the first smoke shop back in 1991, with the intention of making a little money, sure, but as a declaration too—the Unkechaug’s sovereign right to exploit whatever economic advantages the Indians’ sovereignty affords.
The Unkechaugs, like all recognized tribes, are exempt from state and many federal taxes, but beyond this their economic status is murkier, based on whatever arrangement the state and the Indians can agree on. In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York is entitled to collect taxes on Indian sales of cigarettes and motor fuel to non-Indians. Coming up with a way of enforcing that tax has been the trouble.
Their tribal rights have been questioned before, in various ways. Among the papers on the chief’s cluttered desk was a folded-up family tree. In 2006, Gristedes Food Inc. filed a suit—almost all of it since dismissed—questioning the legitimacy of the residents’ native heritage. Gristedes claimed that Unkechaug vendors, located some 65 miles from their nearest supermarket, were unfairly cutting into their profits. Fortunately, the tribe keeps excellent records. The first time such an accusation was made was back in 1935, when publishing scion and notorious cad William Shepherd Dana bought the Floyd estate and claimed that the tribe were, essentially, squatters.
The chief laid out the genealogy for me. “So you start with me, Harry Wallace,” he said, consulting the family tree before him. “Then it went to my mother, Lydia Anne Davis, and then it went to her parents, Charles Davis and Lydia Anne Davis. My grandmother has the same name.” He paused and looked up over his reading glasses, then rattled through a few more names. “Now, Sylvie Hicks and Jerusha Lott were sisters. Their mother was Sybel Lott, and Sybel Lott—we have historical documents—was from a very prominent Indian family.” She was a direct descendant of Chief Nowedonah, and Wallace believes it’s a good bet she was one of the elderly women Jefferson spoke to.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

False Prophets Looking for Large Profits

On June 1st I warned in my first post on the border guard incident in Akwesasne about false prophets and bogus leaders using the issue to further their causes. I reiterated my concerns on my June 24th post. Today I must again address this concern.
What ever this new group of Meredith Quinn/Lester Howse/Kenny Kapplemier/Larry Thompson/Donny Smoke followers call themselves, I wish they would formally distinguish themselves and just renounce themselves as Mohawks. They hint at it. They condemn the Kaianerehkowa. They play all kinds of semantics and prey on the ignorance of others, yet they insist on using the people of Akwesasne, the Kanienkehaka, to build a foundation for their new religion/history/cult/scam. They come in and out of Longhouses, that they don't believe in. They participate in meetings with "other Mohawk leaders", although they no longer consider themselves Mohawks. They seem to have taken over the Akwesasne Women's Fire website with full coverage of the Larry Thompson Show. The buzz is that they plan to use the the history of Mohawk resistance to suck money out of Momar Khadafi and other American haters. What is the end game? Who knows! I, like many, simply want to just ignore all this nonsense. But opportunists like these use events like the Kawehnoke issue to confuse and undermine the will of the people. Most of us are just plain embarrassed by the ramblings and antics of these guys. The problem is that when the patients take over the asylum it comes to a point where it is hard to tell the mad scientist from the mad men and the mad men from the mindless. Someone is behind all this and who ever it is has a purpose. No, it isn't enlightenment or eternal life. It is something much easier to grasp; $. Most of us have gotten used to looking the other way while our neighbors figured out the next get rich quick scheme. This time it is different. This time it isn't about selling out your own ethics or morality; or jeopardizing your own freedom or security. This time it is about selling out our identity. There are plenty of non-natives looking for a group of "onkweohnwe" to deny everything we have ever stood for; sovereignty, freedom, ties to our land, stewards of that land, government by the people, equality, inherent rights, natural law and our connectedness to creation. These prophets of the camel's eye are just what the doctor ordered for all those that would do us harm. A few corrupt, well spoken men can easily find those weakened by years of alcohol and drug abuse, desperate for something to believe in, abused or abandoned as kids, hooked on easy money and disgruntled because no one has ever done anything for them. This isn't the first attempt at this for some of these guys. After making millions and establishing themselves as the envy of others, ruling over them becomes the next brass ring to grab. These guys have worked in and out of every court system, every political system, every religion and every movement, but never once learning about who they were. It is no wonder that they are drawn to the Egyptians. In our way there is no hierarchy. These guys admire the pyramid; the symbol of wealth and power.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Bridges Reopen


After five hours of conflicting reports on just who caused the bridges to be closed, US and Canadian authorities reopened access to the international bridges that cross through the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. Whether the fines and vehicle seizures will continue for those Mohawks that refuse to report their travel to their own community is as unclear as the disruption in the first place. What is clear is that this conflict is far from over.


Confusing the issue is the role that tribal and band councils play in situations like this. With their existence being owed almost entirely to the US and Canadian governments, the question arises on whose interests are they working. Do they honestly place as their highest priority on the will of the people when less than 5% of the people participate in their elections? These administrations serve more as the old Indian Agents than a functioning government. The Saint Regis tribal council is in the process of developing "tribal ID's" that are compliant with the US Department of Homeland Security. The MCA already uses INAC cards that will also be compliant with the DHS Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. So in short, the tribal and band councils now play the role of issuing US and Canadian ID cards under the ruse that they are tribal ID's. It is unfortunate that the Mohawk people when standing up against oppression from the outside, find themselves standing against their so-called "elected officials". Millions of dollars flow into these administrations, either directly from outside governments or indirectly through enterprises, such as casinos that exist in partnership and regulated by the state. Unfortunate or not, the people need to keep an arms length (at least) to these Indian Agents, remembering who they work for and who pays their salaries.


To put this "border" issue into perspective it is important to note that Canada claims other areas of Akwesasne are theirs as well. Both the areas known as St. Regis and Snye (as well as several other islands) are allegedly north of the imaginary line yet no reporting to Canadian Border Services has ever been required or enforced. It is only Kawenoke, which is know as Cornwall Island that has been placed under this restriction. Kawenoke is Mohawk land; territory of the Kanienkehaka, as is all of Akwesasne. It is not MCA land or Saint Regis land and it is not Canada.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Bridges Are Closed Again In Akwesasne

After a two month concession to the will of the Mohawk People the border crossing through Akwesasne is closed again. After the funeral of an elder back in July, the US Customs could no longer claim that they had to close the US side as a matter of international protocol after the Canadian Border Service abandoned their post on Mohawk land. Some behind the scenes waterboarding finally convinced Canadian Border Services to end the nonsense. So they set up a border station on the City of Cornwall side of the river, off the Akwesasne island of Kawenoke. The face-saving catch was that everyone who was only going to Kawenoke was told to proceed all the way on and off the island into the city of Cornwall, report and then return to Kawenoke. Of course, the absurdity of this condition was not missed by the Mohawk people and thus the "new rule" was neither taken seriously nor followed. So now after two months of noncompliance to these morons and their new rule, the Canadian officials began a new push on the people of Akwesasne. A few days ago it was announced that people who entered Kawenoke from the Southern bridge that refused to proceed directly off the island over the Northern bridge into the City of Cornwall to report to Canadian Border Services that they in fact had no desire to enter into Canada but were only going to Kawenoke, would be charged with unlawful entry and have their vehicle seized. Yesterday the seizures started. After a half dozen or so vehicles were seized tensions were growing. Today both the Southern and Northern bridges to the Mohawk island are closed by US and Canadian law enforcement. Keep in mind this all stems from the Mohawk people refusing to allow the Canadian Border Services to establish a permanent armed presence on Mohawk land. Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian Border Service felt that two months of summer travel was enough to quiet the complainers in the City of Cornwall crying about the economic impact of the bridge closure. Or perhaps Albany's share of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino met its milestone for the quarter. Whatever the case, it is clear that the squeeze on the Mohawk people is not over.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Seneca Nation Formally Submits to DHS Pressure on ID's

Well, it is confirmed! The Seneca Nation of Indians has formally announced its plans to develop a Department of Homeland Security compliant Enhanced Tribal Card. They even give it its own set of initials like FBI, DHS, BIA and IOU. They are called, what else, ETC's. Sorry Scott, your Dad didn't tell you the whole truth. He didn't just agree to add an expiration date. No, these cards will be scannable, have digitized photos with specific biometric coded measurements and have RFID chips (see the link to RFID Chips on the side bar at "What They Say"). This way your identification can and will be broadcast to check points, police or any other receiver devices the state/provincial and federal governments decide to use and install. Oh yeah, they will also have expiration dates on them.
For those of you that say, "So what? What do I have to hide? I don't care if I am tracked and identified where ever I go", the best is yet to come. The final requirement of the DHS for a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant ETC is a declaration of citizenship. No, we aren't talking about Seneca Nation citizenship. This is it; once and for all. Are you an American or a Canadian? This time the Seneca Nation is overtly complicit with US and Canadian officials in this game of assimilation and semantics. Of course, no one is forced to get these cards, only those that may want to cross that border that was never intended for us (...for now). Ironically, the Seneca Nation of Indians can't afford to issue these cards so to add insult to injury, the Seneca Indians will have to pay individually for the right to comply with the feds and obtain their own ETC.
So let's hear it for those defenders of Sovereignty and Native rights. If you are not a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, fear not. The Saint Regis Indians, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and the Haudenosaune (otherwise known as Onondaga, et al) are right in line (as well as every other federally recognized tribe). And guess what? You get to have your "Nation's" logo on the card (maybe even your Indian name). No one will ever know you finally declared your subjugation to your oppressors. Hell, you won't even have to show the card. It will transmit who and what you are from your pocket.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Reprint of an April 2009 Post

The case referred to here was opposed at a public meeting but filed anyway on August 5, 2009. A look back at this post is relevant in light of the lust for a Sullivan County casino.

Although there is much that will remained unanswered here, we now have a better understanding of what makes up some of the beliefs of a Saint Regis Indian.
Some of the things we don't know include; who are the Saint Regis Indians, when did they come into existence and just who are the Seven Nations of Canada that these Saint Regis Indians owe some element of their existence to?
Based on a civil action that these Saint Regis Indians, also known as the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT), plan to file in US Federal Court and statements made in a public meeting to discuss this filing, we now know things that were perhaps not understood about these people before.
This is what is learned from the draft of a planned civil action by the SRMT:
The SRMT derives its authority from the US Federal government as a federally recognized Indian tribe. The SRMT believes that "the exercise of jurisdiction within an Indian reservation in New York is exclusively governed by federal law". The SRMT believes that an Indian reservation was established for the use of the Indians of the Village of Saint Regis in 1796 by an agreement between New York State and Seven Nations of Canada. The SRMT believes that New York State made this agreement "In an effort to set aside land for the Mohawks that would be federally protected from encroachment". At some point that is not clear in this filing, the SRMT believes that this "reservation" became the "federal reservation" of the SRMT. The SRMT believes that the US Constitution provides them with the right to bring this action and that United States District Court for the Northern District of New York has jurisdiction because "the Tribe's reservation is located in that District". The SRMT also believes that the "Tribe's reservation" is in New York State's Franklin and St Lawrence Counties and that land that was attempted to be carved out of the interior of the "reservation" by the State is part of the Town of Bombay. The SRMT believes that the Congress of the United States has never "enacted any law or statute or taken any other action to diminish the Tribe's reservation." The SRMT wants a federal judge to declare "that the jurisdiction of the Tribe, the State and the local governments within the Hogansburg Triangle(land within the "Tribe's reservation") is governed by federal law". Although they ask for a "grant of such other relief as the court may deem just and proper", one can't help wonder why they didn't ask for recovery of the taxes they paid in the purchases they made for property in the "Hogansburg Triangle".
In the public meeting to discuss the filing of this case it was also learned that SRMT and its legal counsel believes that it is unlawful for Native retailers to sell products to non-natives without collecting tax for the state. This begs the questions about the SRMT's involvement in this unlawful activity. We also learned that the SRMT believes that the only thing that keeps the State or its counties from siezing land in Akwesasne for taxes is a "gentleman's agreement" that the "Tribe" has with them not to do so.
It must be noted that in spite of the addition of the word "Mohawk" to the name of the Saint Regis Indians, there is no claim in this filing that the SRMT is or represents the Mohawk Nation, the Mohawk People or the Kanienkehaka or is a part of the Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy or the Haudenosaune. On a historical note there is also no mention of any of these entities in the agreement of 1796 cited in the filing nor is there an established connection between these and the so-called Seven Nations of Canada. A reason for this may be because a federal court ruled in a previous attempt by the SRMT to use the court that Saint Regis Indians are not recognized as Mohawks and cannot use a connection to the Mohawk Nation or the Six Nations for their defense. On this one point many Kanienkehaka can agree with the findings of a federal court.
This civil action planned by the SRMT is a land claim. As can be clearly noted from previous posts on Native Pride, this is not "Land Claims; Mohawk Style". Within the lines delineating New York State, not one acre of land has ever been reacquired in a federal court or a court filed land claim. Only Ganienke and the recent reclamation in Akwesasne have resulted in the return of lost land to the people.
This post comes a long way from defining what a Saint Regis Indian is, but it should be clear that Saint Regis Indians are not Mohawks. They are, apparently, Americans; something a Mohawk would never claim.

Saint Regis Tribe Trying to Sell Out The Mohawk People...Again

North Country Public Radio, September 1, 2009
Last year, Governor Paterson signed into law a bill that would enforce collection of state tobacco taxes when non-natives buy cigarettes at native-owned stores. Albany estimates up to 400 million dollars a year in taxes are going uncollected. But like his three predecessors, Paterson’s administration said last week it will not try to collect the taxes. Remember when the Seneca Nation burned tires on the Thruway when then-Governor George Pataki tried to collect them? The whole issue is knotted up in lawsuits. New York City is suing a Long Island tribe. Two counties are suing the Cayuga Nation. The rulings could set precedents in the now cloudy case of tobacco taxes and native tribes. Jim Ransom says there’s an easy solution – sit down and talk. Ransom is chief of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe in Akwesasne. The Mohawks are at odds with New York State over three issues – the cigarette taxes, land claims in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, and building a casino in the Catskills. Ransom says one agreement can resolve them all.


That giant sucking sound is the State and federal government sucking on Ransom hoping the load he drops has the last remnants of Mohawk sovereignty neatly within it. The short-term instant gratification will be the Tribe's credit for putting a Casino in the Catskills. Ransom says he doesn't understand all the fuss over taxing the Mohawk people and Mohawk land claims. A Saint Regis Casino in the Catskills can fix it all. He brags about how successful the Tribe has been in meeting the demands of the State in the past. Joseph Brant would be proud. This will be the greatest sellout of the Mohawk People since he sold 9 million acres of Mohawk land for $1500. The beauty of this deception is that Brant had no more authority to claim to represent the Mohawk Nation than Ransom does. The last time the Saint Regis Tribe tried to claim to be the Mohawk Nation using a handful of Six Nation treaties to defend themselves, a federal court slapped them in the mouth and ruled against them, stating for the record that they were not Mohawks, but rather Saint Regis Indians. Perhaps Ransom will get his image carved into the White man's history, monuments and buildings just as Brant did.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Native to Native Business: We Need to Defend and Redevelop the Concept

It is imperative that we identify, oppose and ultimately rid ourselves of any of the obstacles preventing Native to Native commerce. Even as states and their federal government continue to work to deny our free access to the American market, we need to draw an even more indelible line when it comes to interfering with Our commerce. No state should be allowed to dictate to a Native person the terms by which they can purchase, sell or otherwise trade with another Native person or in another Native territory. We are consumers of goods. For the most part, most of our consumption takes place off our territories. We need to network both as consumers and producers to ensure that we are keeping the dollars amongst us through as many exchanges as possible. We need to identify the products and services our people need most and work to anchor our businesses with Native clientele.
Even the Nation enterprises have a role here. Let the gaming enterprises promote each others facilities. Learn from and teach each other the tricks for success. Promote and carry Native products in the Nation gaming and retail facilities. For those Nations with a successful private sector, demonstrate the value and the strength that comes from it. Keep in mind that not all services or development require the expansion of Nation employment. Contracts for anything from travel to lawn care can create a private sector business opportunity.
We need to look for future opportunities. Gas, Gaming and Cigarettes have been done and while our place in these industries needs to be defended, asserted and even grown, we need to move beyond them. World class Flea Markets networked across Indian Country could serve as incubators for Native retailers. Products from artisans to farmers could be afforded the best physical and electronic means to get their products to market. Other types of development centers for business and technology should capitalize on our regulatory advantages. Such facilities could help to bring in leading edge manufacturing and investment, in particular from Native people. Green technologies and sustainable enterprises, with a look forward and more scrutiny of our past, should present genuine opportunities for the future. Asserting our role as the Earth's Care Takers should be a task we take seriously. Our future may depend on it in more ways than one.
We shouldn't be adopting an isolationist policy or attitude towards our commerce with the non-native community, but we need to re-establish our relationships and not allow ourselves to be separated socially, culturally or economically from each other. Defending our commerce with the non-native public can only be strengthened by a strong Native to Native economy. There should be a social component to our business development. Perhaps the dollar isn't the bottom line. Economic profitability is certainly relevant and extremely important, but the need to provide products and services truly needed by our people must be considered. As consumers we have to decided if saving a buck at Walmart or McDonald's is worth the trip, especially if it tips the scale for viability of a local business.
Let's begin a process of reassessing our needs and relationships. Let's really consider who and what we want to support.