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.