Sunday, November 1, 2009
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.