Friday, May 22, 2009
The PACT Act Will Not Necessarily End the Native Tobacco Business, It Will Criminalize It!
What started as selling cigarettes out of converted house trailers and tar paper shacks has become a sophisticated industry ranging from quality manufacturing to a retail sector that exclusively caters to end user buyers throughout the continent. The Seneca and Tuscarora people turned a tobacco industry with no future, or at best a precarious one, into a legitimate economy that has had nothing but a positive effect on the Western New York economy. The transformation of a crude, cash only, under the table, no frills retail sector, that would buy from anyone with product and sell to anyone willing to buy, into an industry dominated with quality Native brands, full service convenience stores and other innovative sales, marketing and promotion strategies is a remarkable one. This kind of backward and parallel integration of an industry would be the model for struggling economies if it were not being done exclusively by Native people owed in no small part to their autonomy and sovereignty. Jealousy, racism and general ignorance marked by an unbroken chain of historical oppression will never allow this success to be enjoyed by Native people. And so all the efforts to bring legitimacy to an otherwise legal, albeit socially condemned, industry will have politicians and legislators from Buffalo to Albany and New York to Washington working overtime to kill it.
Now the outright assassination of an industry is tough for these guys. It's kind of like their "war on drugs" or their "war on terror". First they'll characterize as many people as possible (in this case Natives) as criminal and unseemly, then they will attempt to convert or otherwise take out the big players. But once the business reverts back to operating in the shadows it starts to get very difficult. When all the incentive for legitimacy and self-regulation is eliminated all bets will be off. Conflicts with law enforcement will once again be a fact of life, something almost unheard of these days. Bulk sales to individuals looking to cash in on bootlegging will return. High quality product will be reduced to cheap, unbranded bulk manufacturing. Seizures will be constantly reported but they will represent the acceptable losses for an industry once again relegated to operating in the shadows. All this will not be borne out of opportunity but rather necessity.
With U.S. law makers poised to adopt legislation that will attempt to wipe out 80% of the Native tobacco business, clearly not everyone will just lie down. A few will quit; just sit back and live off what ever nest egg they have been able to build during the good years. Some will try to diversify and get in to new types of businesses, most of whom will fail. But another select few will figure out how continue. These will be the future models for the Native tobacco sellers. Now with a much broader knowledge of the industry, away from the scrutiny of state, federal and tribal authorities, a whole new economy will emerge. Not one any of us want but it will be all that is left. All the tribal licensing and collective revenue generation that was intended to somehow keep the outside interests from harming our businesses will be shattered. Self-regulation will have a price tag. Words like smuggling and money laundering will continue to be frowned on from the outside social elite, but will be common on the rez. No "Trail of Tears" or "Rosewood" tragedy will follow here, just a giant step backward for Native people; back to a time we worked so hard to get out of. On a good note it was in those times that we learned to assert our sovereignty. As chaos is forced back upon us, we'll have to see what opportunities will be realized.