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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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inside the Catsimatidis Cabal

By Jed Morey in Indian Issues on

John Kane is an Indian educator and advocate in upstate New York, who broadcasts a show on WECK-AM in Buffalo and blogs at As a Mohawk, married to an Oneida woman, living in Seneca territory, he likes to say he has half of the Iroquois Confederacy covered. Kane brings native issues to light on radio and online from the native perspective, and over the past couple of years we have become fast friends, trading stories and anecdotes related to tribal sovereignty issues that I frequently write about, but he has mastered—an impressive distinction given the complexities and differences of opinion inherent in these debates even among Indians.
During the Anthony Weiner fiasco, Kane reminded me of the disgraced congressman’s duplicitous role in shepherding the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act) of 2009, of which he was the House sponsor, through Congress. In the middle of this ridiculous Twitter situation with Weiner, I spoke with Kane on his show about the scandalous nature of an act sold to the public as an anti-terrorism, tax-evasion punishment with positive public health consequences as Rep. Weiner argued on the House floor. In reality, the act itself was a protectionist economic tool crafted by, and for the benefit of, the American tobacco giants and convenience-store retailers seeking a way to curb the growth of native brand cigarettes. The passage of the PACT Act is a textbook example of money and influence in Washington where holier-than-thou legislators preach from atop an artificial moral high ground from a pulpit made of campaign cash.

The greased wheels of democracy behind this bill carry a clown car of strange bedfellows down roads that all lead back to billionaire John Catsimatidis, the ringmaster of this bizarre circus of influence. Catsimatidis is a high-profile figure in New York politics whose fortune is derived from the oil-refinery, grocery and convenience-store industries. Most recently it was the high society nuptials between his daughter, Andrea and Christopher Cox—grandson of Richard Nixon and son of New York GOP leader Ed Cox—that put the Catsimatidis name in the public eye. This is a merger of the highest social order in New York, renewing the notion that Catsimatidis will take a shot at becoming the next billionaire mayor of New York City, a hope that had been dashed when current Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to run for a third term. Add to the mix that presumptive candidate and power-grubbing sycophant Weiner is out of the picture, and the Catsimatidis for Mayor campaign will undoubtedly be in full swing.
Catsimatidis stands in stark physical contrast to the relatively soft-spoken and diminutive Bloomberg. A big man with bulbous features, he has a caricaturesque appearance. Apart from these visual differences the two men have much in common. They are self-made billionaires whose party affiliations are fluid and for whom the job of Gotham’s mayor is the brass ring. Less notably, but important where the tobacco industry is concerned, they are perfectly aligned in their unmitigated offensive against the native cigarette trade, and they were Anthony Weiner’s two top individual donors.
Bloomberg’s assault on the Indian cigarette trade has been well-publicized, but it’s Catsimatidis who truly keeps the fire stoked. For example, half of the sponsors of the PACT Act have been recipients of Catsimatidis’ largesse over the past several years. Since the 1990s he has spread around nearly a million dollars in campaign contributions under his name or his direct family members. He even dumped campaign cash into the coffers of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who, during the cycles he received money, produced a congressional committee report titled “Tobacco and Terror,” which attempted to establish a link between the native cigarette trade and Hezbollah. It was a marginal and laughable report until Rep. Weiner matter-of-factly referred to the report (produced by his political nemesis) as gospel while arguing for the PACT Act on the House floor. From that point, the fate of native cigarette traders was effectively sealed. The New York and Washington, D.C. tobacco cabal, bought and paid for by Catsimatidis, included provisions in the act that delivered a direct blow to the Seneca Nation in western New York, arguably the most successful tobacco entrepreneurs in the United States, and direct competitors to the chain of convenience stores and gas stations owned by none other than John Catsimatidis.
Ironically, but purposefully, the only winners from the PACT Act were the tobacco manufacturers and convenience store owners who essentially crafted the legislation and financed its passage. Big Tobacco reaffirmed its competitive economic advantage by squeezing off supply routes for native brands and Indian retailers, which in turn benefited convenience stores with multiple locations. The act had little to do with trafficking, public health or terrorism, and everything to do with asserting monopolistic influence over a growing native trade that was gaining market share.
Watching Weiner argue the bill crafted by his donors told me everything I needed to know about this guy long before he revealed his true sleazy nature. “An act that goes after cigarettes, tax evaders and terrorism? Slam dunk… Who gets hurt? Indians? Where do I sign?” This was probably the extent of the conversation that transpired between PACT Act sponsors like Anthony Weiner and sugar daddy Catsimatidis. When it came down to it, Weiner could be bought. That’s the name of the game, I suppose, and whoever takes his spot will likely be no different. After all, a Weiner by any other name is still a dick. (You didn’t think I would get through the whole piece without a penis pun, did you?)

Author: Jed Morey
Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press, an alternative weekly newspaper with a circulation of 85,000, and, which welcomes more than 750,000 unique visitors every month. He serves on the boards of the Long Island chapter of the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County, as well as the President's Council of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island. Morey is also a proud founding member of the Keep It On Long Island (KIOLI) movement, an online community - - dedicated to preserving the Long Island economy while providing environmental stewardship in the region. The Kioli founding members set aside 5% of membership investments to purchase shares of a local, organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, which then donates the equivalent shares to Island Harvest, a Long Island-based hunger relief organization. In addition to the contributions on this blog, Morey authors the award winning column for the Long Island Press entitled "Off The Reservation" and is a staunch advocate for Indian rights. Morey lives in Glen Cove with his wife, Eden White, and their two daughters.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Does the UNDRIP Recognize What Many of Us Don't?

I am in a constant debate with many Native people over where our Sovereignty and general "rights" come from. I grow frustrated with those that suggest that "treaties" grant us our sovereignty or our rights to and on our own land. I openly condemn the "treaties" that so many hold sacred. They were not pursued by us, written by us and they were rarely, if ever, properly ratified by us (or them for that matter). They do not define us or nor do they limit by their exclusion what our rights are (that is to say that if a "right" or "privelge" isn't spelled out in a treaty that it doesn't exist).
While I am not completely sold on the merits of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is amazing that every participating nation of the UN (with some holdback from the US and Canada) recognized the following:

Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources,

Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements with States,

Note that the Declaration associates land rights and resources with "inherent rights" not "treaty rights". And that the Nations of the world specify rights "affirmed in treaties" not granted in them.
Our people have to understand these distinctions and stand with the rest of the people of the world in declaring what they already seem to know and should be so obvious to us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The State Clears Another Hurdle to Cut Off Its Supply to Native Stores

I have to start off by clarifying certain misrepresented facts. Nothing the state is doing will force tax collection on sales of tobacco products on Native lands. The whole scheme is designed to stop New York State wholesalers from supplying unstamped and untaxed cigarettes to Native wholesalers and retailers. No law has been passed to prohibit our sales; stamp or no stamp. The state knows they cannot do this. There is also no law that prohibits a non-native person from making un-taxed purchases from our territories. The fact remains that, under NYS law, ANYONE(of legal age) can bring up to two cartons of cigarettes into the state from any where for use and consumption without NYS tax or its stamp applied or any liability for that tax and that includes purchases from Native retailers.

The new law, when and if it ever does come into effect, will serve only to put a few NYS licensed wholesalers out of business. The state will not only see no revenue from this but will actually lose money from a whole range of areas directly from its actions. The job loss is one direct cost but so will the loss in MSA payments from Big Tobacco as more consumers shift to Native brands from those that pay millions to the state. Native brands will go from representing 80% of the sales from Native retailers to 100%. Of course the occasional load of Marlboros and Newports will still make it to the shelves of Native retailers but they will come from other states that will receive those MSA payments. The state will also have to decide how much they are willing to spend on enforcement. We have seen the state spend as much as $23 million per month in state police alone over this issue in the past.

The other cost to all this is the political cost and the damage in the relationship between the state and Native people. These types of disputes also tend to polarize the public not just on the issue at hand but on racial issues in general. One only needs to read comments to the mainstream media coverage of the issue to see comments that cross well into racism.