The Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA) and its enhanced amendments through the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act* are supposed to be tools to fight organized crime, violence associated with the illicit tobacco trade and the funding of terrorism through tobacco diversion. And yet the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that claims to be pitifully underfunded still managed to spend several years, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours conducting a “sting” operation out of Kansas City, Missouri, not to prosecute the “mob” or biker gangs or even terrorist cells, but to help New York State with its “Indian problem.” It’s true! This entire elaborate “set up” had Native businesses as the objects of its affection.
This is a country in the midst of a decade-long war on terrorism, the worst economic crisis since the “Great Depression,” and street violence that rises to a level where a little girl is gunned down in the street a week after performing for the President of the United States. And these laws are being used for an “Indian problem”? A state that is rated as the worst place in the country to do business, has the highest tax rates, highest Medicaid costs, and most of its cities on the brink of bankruptcy has an “Indian problem”?
And this “Indian problem” warrants the use of laws designed to fight organized crime and terrorism? Well, just what is this “Indian problem”?
Oh! It’s that sovereignty thing again! I recently spent two days at the National Indian Gaming Association’s Legislative Summit in Washington D.C. There I saw and heard Congressman after Congressman and Senator after Senator—none from New York, by the way—take to the podium and pledge their undying support to “Tribal Sovereignty.” It’s funny, but not one suggested that we were a threat to national security or hinted at any concern about our territories slipping into the clutches of organized crime. Yet the attempt to force our barely existing economic development into compliance with the state with the worst regulatory atmosphere is the exact opposite of respect and support for our sovereignty. It tramples it!
Since New York State was born, our people have resisted its regulations and many federal ones, too. For more than 30 years our people have worked to reclaim a place in an industry we started: the tobacco trade. During that time we have stood strong in our resistance to the State’s authority over our tobacco trade. Even as New York State whined and complained about tax revenue it claimed to be losing to us we demonstrated over and over again the positive effects our trade had on and off our territories. As the State shut off their wholesalers from supplying national brands, our people produced our own brands bringing manufacturing, distribution and wholesaling to our lands and giving even more of a boost to our economy and that of the areas around our communities.
Our tobacco trade is not a crime. We have backward integrated from tarpaper shacks selling cheap cigarettes to full-fledged convenience stores, sophisticated wholesale and distribution companies and state-of-the-art manufacturers. We bank, we invest, we employ and we support one another. But we don’t owe and we don’t pay the State anything. And although we don’t allow New York State to regulate our businesses, it certainly does benefit from them. This is not a crime. It is the assertion of our sovereignty.
If the U.S. Treasury Department’s ATF and the prosecutors from the Justice Department intend to use the CCTA and the USA PATRIOT Act* to solve New York’s “Indian problem,” then they should come right out and call us all criminals and terrorists and cease with all this “unintended consequence of our laws” BS. It’s time for Native, state and federal politicians to stop playing dumb. And it’s time for the U.S. to admit how it abuses its own laws.
*For those who don’t know, this act has nothing to do with “patriotism.” It stands for “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” WWKB-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany.
“Our tobacco trade is not a crime. We have backward integrated from tarpaper shacks selling cheap cigarettes to full-fledged convenience stores, sophisticated wholesale and distribution companies and state-of-the-art manufacturers. We bank, we invest, we employ and we support one another. But we don’t owe and we don’t pay the State anything…. This is not a crime. It is the assertion of our sovereignty.”