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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Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Mr. Paterson

Mr. Paterson, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can appreciate that you were not elected into the position you now hold, but don't be so limp about it. You are a blind, black man that managed to become the governor of New York State. How could you crumble into being the legislature's lapdog? Did somebody tell you that the State's checks and balance system disappeared when you took the oath?
There is a reason that most Native territories within the State won't sit to negotiate a "deal" like other states have with their Indians. We aren't your Indians. We will not allow you to take anymore from us. We stopped being pushed around by New York over thirty years ago. Hell, we pushed back against Rockefeller on I 81. Only Attica prevented a major conflict between us. We fought to carve out a small piece of the tobacco trade; a trade we originally developed through respectful cultivation, incorporation into our customs and trade with other nations centuries before the white man prostituted our sacred medicine. We are not going to dance for you on this. We are in this business to stay.
Even if you illegaly stop finished products from making it to our territories for resale we have enough Native manufactured product to carve out a significant business. Perhaps you are doing us a favor by drawing the line in the sand. I believe we can take more market share from big tobacco so more of our revenue stays at home. Of course you will lose more MSA funds but hell, this isn't about money any way. Right? It is about your concern for the public health and safety. You certainly would not try to use a public vice to raise money for the State budget; oh yeah there is that "Crack Draw" thing you want to expand and the increase on tax and availabiliy of alcohol. On second thought, maybe you and Elliot can figure a way to tax postitution. Just remember to pay your fair share and pay tax on all that you use and consume in the State.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Tobacco Businesses Will Not Just Continue to Survive, They Will Grow

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the State can and cannot do with regards to Native retatil of any products including tobacco. The State has no more authority to tax the sales of tobacco on our lands today than it had when we started. What the State is hoping to do is prevent product from getting to us without their tax already applied. By and large most cigarettes sold by Native retailers have the Federal excise tax paid. The product comes to the wholesalers with the tax applied or in the case of imported product it is paid when clearing customs. The bottom line for the State is that they can only control their State licensed wholesalers and even these entities that they control must have their regulations legally and evenly applied with particular scrutiny paid to the interstate regulations. Any commerce conducted that involves products coming or going from our communities is interstate commerce. New York State does not have the authority to regulate interstate commerce or commerce with "Indians" specifically. This is is not called out in some overly debated treaty interpretation. It is mandated in the US Constitution. The signifiacance of having the State's wings clipped by the Constitution on both Native commerce and interstate commerce is that any "Indian" specific regulatory scheme must also abide by interstate commerce regulations. The State can do nothing about our manufacturing or our wholesale and distribution without violating Federal law and well established standards for interstate commerce. I do believe it is illegal for New York State to block non-native manufacturers, including Big Tobacco, from doing business with us and I also believe Philip Morris and the others are illegally discriminating against Native retailers by denying us product. However, I strongly believe we should bouycot these manufacturers and steal as much market share from them as we can and we should likewise avoid purchasing from the State licensed wholesalers to stay as far from the State's reach as possible. The tobacco business was ours first and it will be ours last. We will find ways to capitalize on the this industry that was hijacked from us and continue to develop products and markets that will susutain us. As we continue to develop in this business we will find more ways to keep more of the revenue from our manufacturing and sales. I look to the day when neither the State nor the Feds collect a cent of tax revenue from our commerce.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The State Should Be Careful for What It Wishes For

Paterson's signature of the tax bill will not end Native retail of tobacco. It will, however cost the State billions of Master Settlement Act funds. These are funds that George Pataki borrowed against years ago for previous budget woes. These funds come to the State from Big tobacco as a additional tax to the states based on sales. Since the MSA does not apply to products we manufacture, the State will be cutting its nose to spite its face. This new bill will force Native retailers to do what they should have done years ago when big tobacco began its campaign against Native retailers. That is; stop selling their products. There are more than enough Native products to stock our shelves and keep our tobacco businesses successful. Native product has been chipping away at the market share held by the big guys on its own accord. We would be in a better position, however, if our retailers would make more of a concerted effort to drive their customers toward Native products. A famous author and Indian hater once referred to Native people as those that "lick the hand that smites them". Our retailers that cling to their Marlboro sales do just that. Philip Morris has used us, abused us and laughed all the way to the bank as we built our businesses. We need to ween ourselves from those that "smite" us and from State licensed wholesalers as well. Our Native manufacturers have a strong position against any State or Federal restrictions of trade of Native manufactured goods for sale on Native lands. That is the battle we should be fighting and it is non-negotiable. If the State wants to criminalize our businesses they will spend millions while they continue to lose millions. If our businesses are forced to operate in the shadows, they will. And the State will be worse for it. Native leadership will be forced to reevaluate their cooperative agreements, including their gaming compacts and the revenue the State collects from those agreements.

Mr. Paterson; be aware, this bill will not exist in a vacuum. The State legislature; be careful what you wish for!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Seven Generations

I responded to a request for an explanation of the "seven generations" moral guide on the Seneca Voice blog. This is a repost of that explanation.

The seventh generation is the one we will never see. We have a responsibility to those unborn faces that will show themselves after we are gone. If I claim to accept that responsibility and then expect the Nation to solve my problems, fight my battles, defend my sovereignty and, of course, cut me a check, then I am a fraud.
We say we are the Nation, yet still always refer to the Nation in third person. How often do we say what the Nation should do rather than what we should do? Our ancestors invented the concept of "a servant of the people" for those elected or selected to be our representatives. When winning an election is like winning the lottery, it begs the question; who is serving who?
We historically are referred to as a People with an oral tradition as if that is something primative. The key to an oral society is having and exercising your voice. Our ancestors recognized that our power of communication made us distinct from all of creation. Our ceremonies are intended to remind us that we are neither the lords or masters of nature nor separated from it.
A man becomes an unnatural being when he becomes solely interested in the power and position of man. When we give up our voice for a vote, when we fail to be responsible for ourselves, let alone those unborn faces, by passing the buck to some man-made institution (the Nation, courts, police, CPS, NYS), we forget who we are.
The key to the Longhouse is the fire. The fire represents the place to have your voice heard. The right to a fire is our right of assembly. Men, women, the youth, clans, medicine societies, councils, communities; we all have the right to the warmth, the light and the protection that a fire provides so that we can talk and be heard.

One commentor added that at the center of it all was love and in particular a love for a higher power. This was my response.

I beg to differ with the love comment. At the center was personal responsibility. Many will challenge another's assessment of their love for those around us. Being responsible to the elements and people around us may be a demonstration of love, but it is more. In our culture it says that we will never know the face or the place that the power of creation dwells, only the evidence of that power. This is to remind us that our first compact or covenant is with nature. There is nothing supernatural about our belief systems. I am very cautious when people attempt to inject religion into our beliefs. We don't need faith that the creator will take care of us. We need to acknowledge creation and our place in it. Creation has provided all we need to "carry ourselves" the rest is choice.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Solution to the Cayuga Land Status Issue

If the Seneca Nation still wants to claim to be "The Keepers of the Western Door" then they should step up to help their younger brothers. The Seneca Nation could use their unique ability to avoid the Fee to Trust process and set up a permanent land trust for the Cayugas. The Senecas could take the title to the Cayuga sites for a minimum fee, remove it from the State control and place it in a permanent land trust on a Seneca title to the Cayugas. Otherwise the fee to trust process would be placing the title into the hands of the federal government for "use and enjoyment" of the Cayugas.

The problem with this scenario is that the land acquistion process that the Senecas have has been compromised by their Gaming Compact. The Act of Congress that created the process should not have been altered or encumbered by a State agreement. It had no business being added to the negotiations and any reference to land use or acquisition in the Gaming Compact should be struck from the agreement. The State had no right to request such restrictions and the Interior Department should never have let it go through. More evidence on why they shouldn't be trusted. Not to mention the fact that the State has failed to live up to several elements of their end of the bargain and continue to work against Native interests.