Monday, August 23, 2010

Indian War Whoop

The Indian push back against the right of the state to collect the tax money it is owed continues-and the tribes lack any sense of irony in their outrage. It's as if we were in some kind of time warp where the white man is looking to confiscate Indian land and commit genocide. The Times Union has the story: "As the Sept. 1 effective date of taxing Native American cigarette sales nears, tempers are rising in Indian Country. Even historically cool-headed leaders are angry, and were amazed that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg fanned the flames by saying Gov. David Paterson should stick to his tax policy by donning a cowboy hat, grabbing a shotgun and standing in the Thruway to lay down the law."

Of course, this is just a bit of hyperbole-and the mayor was responding to the possibility that the Indians would reprise their act of vigilantism that took place in the late nineties. But the tribes continue to argue that they have some sort of sovereignty rights-something that the SC decision of 1994 should have disabused them of: "Other events going against the Indian nations have followed: Enactment of a federal mail policy that closed off cigarette shipments, forcing hundreds of layoffs in Seneca territory; a decision by a federal appeals court that denied the Oneidas from seeking damages from New York for wrongful taking of their land; and a state budget that earmarked $150 million this year by enforcing tax collections on tribal cigarette operations."

What a shock! The Indians are citizens of NY State and need to comply with its laws. But now they want to play the race card: "What's wrong with a Jewish man egging on a black man to shoot an Indian?" said Onondaga leader Oren Lyons, a traditional chief the past 44 years. The 80-year-old former college lacrosse teammate of Jim Brown spends most of his time at the reservation just south of Syracuse, except when he travels as a crisis negotiator and human rights activist. He said of Bloomberg: "I had a lot of respect for that man and what he's done in New York City, but now . . . His people went through a holocaust and they have a museum in Washington, D.C., to show the pictures. We don't have a museum to show the holocaust; they wouldn't show the pictures."

Now no one would argue with the fact that the Indians took a drubbing over a hundred years ago-but if you want to consider that those were wars between two soveriegnties, than that issue was resolved when the Indians lost; and since then, in recognition of their mistreatment, various state and federal programs have been put in place to assist the tribal members in being integrated into American society. But when it comes to the sale of cigarettes, the Indians want to have their tobacco and smoke it.

Hence there confused desperation: "People talk about this (as) an uprising," Lyons said. "But what would the state of New York say if Vermont came in and said we're going to have to tax you 80 percent of your income? You think they might stand up and fight? What options are there with the Indians if you can't go to court?"

Well, that's exactly what did happen under the old Articles of Confederation-one state imposing a tariff on the movement of goods from another state-and the resulting US Constitution resolved the issue. But once again, Indians are raising a totally bogus sovereignty question in order to avoid their obligations under the legally binding state law.

As the Journal News points out: "The Seneca Nation on Friday filed an injunction in federal court to delay the collection of cigarette-tax revenue on reservations. Earlier in the week, the tribe filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the state's plan. "We had hoped to come to an understanding where the parties would have an orderly and agreed upon processing of the merits of our claims," said Barry Snyder, the president of the Seneca Nation in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Nation now finds itself in the position of needing emergency relief from the federal courts to keep the State from implementing this illegal tax scheme."

"Illegal tax scheme?" What this amounts to is a declaration of war against the duly constituted and sovereign authority of NY State-and deserves as forceful a response as the governor and the legislature can muster: "If successful, the state's enforcement would end a decades-long struggle of state officials to collect the revenue. The last attempt, in 1997, resulted in Seneca tribe members in Cattaraugus County occupying Thruway overpasses in protest. Fourteen people were arrested and two state troopers were injured during the protests."
That's what Mayor Bloomberg was referring to-a bold flouting of legal authority that, if not stopped cold, will lead to the subversion of state authority. Put simply, it is a call to insurrection-and no different, given the tax implications, as a direct raid on the state treasury: "The state approved a plan in June to collect the revenue by taxing the wholesalers who sell cigarettes on the reservations, which would lead to higher prices there. Members of the tribe would not be taxed for buying cigarettes on the reservations and could opt into a coupon program. The proposal was coupled with a $1.60 hike in the per-pack price on cigarettes to $4.35 in an effort to balance the state's budget, a plan that is expected to generate $300 million. As a result, cigarette sales have taken a nosedive in July." (emphasis added)
The Indians have drawn a line in the sand-and the road to this insurrection is littered with the carcasses of legitimate retailers and wholesalers. When you listen to the Indians' rhetoric, it becomes clear that this is a defining moment for government; either it protects the legitimate rights of the citizens and tax paying businesses, or else it allows criminals to dictate what laws should or shouldn't be enforced.
We'll give the tribal spokesman the last word of warning: "Mark Emery, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation, went further in his skepticism. "None of New York's previous efforts to impose taxes on sovereign Indian nations have ever succeeded, and there is no reason to believe this latest effort will succeed either," Emery said. He added that the tribe is willing to sit down and resolve the issue outside of the court system. "When New York is ready to engage with the Oneida Nation on a government-to-government basis in which the parties respect each other's interests, we'll be ready to negotiate a final resolution that is fair and legal," he said."
NY State is either sovereign, or it isn't. The resolution of this already settled legal question, is in the hands of the governor and the legislature.