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, 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.