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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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.


Anonymous said...

It can truly be argued that Sovereignty is term that is allmost amorphic as the plethera of assumptions and assertations made over time by hundreds of various voices of many lands.
However, one must in the quest at a comon understanding look at explanations e.g. wikpedia's on line dictionary, which makes as much sence as any acedemic source. [Wikpedia states]--"Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided. The concept has been discussed, debated and questioned throughout history, from the time of the Romans through to the present day, although it has changed in its definition, concept, and application throughout, especially during the Age of Enlightenment. The current notion of state sovereignty were laid down in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which, in relation to states, codified the basic principles of territorial integrity, border inviolability, and supremacy of the state (rather than the Church). A sovereign is a supreme lawmaking authority."
The above, together with the common sence approacho, in which one [ought] to understand that [a] unique and independant body of people that can effectively make and enforce rules[i.e.laws] that it's population respects and adhears to, and a {nationa] which has it's own enforcement and governing body and which does or could-manage it's affairs with national bodies outside itself, and, that a [nation] that can mark its territory and enforce it's borders and security and which has a standing force of it's own people [Army if you will] and can and does use that force when needed to enforce it's laws and domains borders, is a sovereign body of people.
In looking at all accounts of indigenous "Americas'-it will and can be seen that without exception, all indigenous nations [i.e. national bodies of people], invariably at least attempted ALL OF THE ABOVE, in efforts at retaining home and independance.
Originally-from 1492 to at least the 1890s' Indigenous people stated and re stated that [we] do not look outside of ourown nations or people, to others, to inform us as to who we are and how we are to be".Untill [apparently lately.]
It would seem then, the present "Leadership"[?] of "Indigenous America, at least in N America, has moved vast distances away from the original understanding of [their] given nations original Iconography and beliefs as Indigenous Sovereigns.
As regards Unity, that is a concept that was thrown away as self engrandisement and greed replaced original Indigenous ways and understanding.
As Tecumseh once stated [at a treaty negotiation -which he did not agree to] to the American general Anthony Wayne, "we shall allow you [Americans]to return to your original lands and we shall keep ours".
Wahya AniYunwiyahgi [wolfe of the original people]

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

I will always caution against letting anyone else define what our sovereignty represents or means except our people. A certain amount of discretion must be used when applying a word or concept that originates from others to people such as us that are historically so distinct from the origins of the concept. With the general meaning of sovereignty referring to the power assert one's own authority, any specific definition beyond that must be left up to the people in question to define how that power is used and where it is vested.

Anonymous said...

is the nys hearing transcripts available to read online?

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

YouTube Videos of the hearings are linked in the side bar. I haven't found the transcript on-line yet. The written testimonies that were turned in were much lenghtier than the oral, but some of the best stuff came out in the questioning.

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

When the Governor's counsel tesified that it was estimated that state enforcement would cost $2 million a day and that violent confrontation was more than likely and that these issues have contributed to the state's reluctance to act, the committee members were beside themselves. George Winner, the Republican fron Elmira, asked, “Doesn’t that send a message that there are rewards for not following the law?” I say yeah, ask a runaway slave or Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks or Joe Kennedy. If laws are wrong they should not be followed. What Americans will boast of as achievements in democracy, civil rights and labour laws all began with people resisting the established laws.
In all the talk of violent confrontations everyone failed to mentioned that not one act of violence was ever committed by a Native person until the police attacked. Roads were blocked and demonstrated on. That's it! One of these morons on the Senate committee actually questioned why anti-terrorism laws weren't used against those who suggested to investigators that a confrontation would occur should the state repeat the actions of the 90's. He suggested that these new laws could be used against anyone threatening or intimidating government or law enforcement with violence. Great Country! These guys can stick their "rule of law".

Pridebourne said...

Another reoccuring theme was, "many of the public services are paid for by the state." Our communities could agrue that we granted 'right of way,' or, services are treaty obligations. The best response would be to begin phasing out reliance on state or federal services for essential functions of our communities. Most of the services provided by state and federal agencies are not treaty obligations, rather, line items from indian policies. Ending this exploitation of ambiguous representation will help our communities clear the fog of politics and raise accountability.