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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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Feds Try to Make an Example of the Tonawanda Senecas

On Thursday morning, February 23, at approximately 9 am, almost 100 federal agents raided four retail establishments on the Territory of the Tonawanda Senecas. The federal agents were armed with assault rifles and hand guns and represented the Department of Homeland Security(DHS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms(ATF), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency(DEA) and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs(BIA).
The warrants "authorizing" the armed invasion by federal authorities into the sovereign lands of the Tonawanda Senecas listed three specific product areas as the focus for search and seizure. No arrests were made and the speed and precision of the raid had agents in and out before the community could respond.
A product marketed as incense but is regarded as "fake weed", because its producers attempt to skirt the state and federal definitions of a controlled substance is the most sensational of those product areas. These products also known as "Spice" or "K2" are widely available at dozens of non-native retail establishments throughout Western New York. It is actually distributed by New York licensed wholesalers.
Another product area that was targeted were counterfeit or "knock-off" designer products such as purses, clothing or jewelry. These are the items sold by thousands of flea market vendors or street vendors in any populated area including New York City.
The final reason listed for the this vulgar display of threat and intimidation is cigarettes. Along with many brands of federally compliant tobacco products, many Native retailers carry cigarettes that are not produced with permits from the federal government. The products are produced by Native people on Native lands and are often retailed within the same community where they are manufactured. Some are branded and others are sold as a generic cigarette in bags rather than cartons. To the extent that these products are not retailed within the territories where they're produced, they are distributed as a form of Native to Native trade.
If this last target seems different from the first two because of its unique availability; know this: many retailers in many states now advertise the sale of non regulated cigarettes. Non-native shops even in Western New York allow consumers to walk into their store place an order and walk out with non federally regulated cigarettes. They will simply manufacture them while you wait and you can call them "roll your own". Yes it is true that a $30 carton of cigarettes still can be purchased in Western New York without having to travel to a Native territory; just search "head shops" and while you are there you can buy all the "fake weed" you like. No armed agents, no surveillance, no problem.
Make no mistake about this act of aggression. Its purpose is to harm Native people. The weapons were primarily to cause psychological harm; the bullets were to kill. The effort is just another in a long line of attempts to subjugate Native people. Killing the tiny private sector economies of Native lands is a federal policy. Always has been. Treating our people like criminals after stretching state and federal laws just far enough (or in these cases, simply misrepresenting the same) to criminalize our commerce is also federal policy. Nothing was confiscated here that couldn't have been seized from dozens of non-native retailers in Western New York alone. This was not about the "products". The feds know who produces and distributes these life threatening purses and incense. This was about singling out Native people for an act of pure aggression.
If it has never quite been made clear before, let's be clear here; The federal government, and the states as well, have no problem with our commerce as long as we are only consumers. They are even willing to look the other way on whether we pay taxes; again I'm talking about on our purchases. It is sales that the the feds and states want to kill. They don't want us selling anything to generate an economy. They don't want us selling our labor, our crops, our game, our art, our natural resources, our manufactured goods; nothing,,,unless they can tax it. And by tax it, I mean to tax it high enough to kill the sale.
There is one thing they have always wanted us to sell. They never worried about taxing this sale. They never worried about whether the sale was fair or legal. They never worried about the terms or how much boozed or how many guns or troops were used to coerce the sale. The only thing the state and federal government ever wanted us to sell and remains the object of their policies is our mother; our land. Everyone of these pieces of legislation, whether it is at the state or federal level, is designed to wipeout the distinction of our people and, more importantly, our land.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Believe It or Not, There are Bigger Issues

Before the frenzy caused by a New York State Senator and his wife rolling around the floor of the Seneca Niagara Casino, a bigger problem was creeping up on Native Territories.
A law passed back in 2009 called the Children's Health Insurance Program Authorization Act or CHIPRA has created a circumstance where the IRS now feels compelled to assess a tax, the likes of which has never before been seen on Native land or by Native people. The act increased the Federal Excise Tax or FET on cigarettes by $6.16 per carton to cover health care for children. A Floor Stock Tax is also provided in the act, which was intended to prevent non-native retailers, wholesaler and distributors of tobacco products from buying huge overstocks of cigarettes and other tobacco products in advance of the tax increase to avoid paying it on that stock.
Almost three years later a trickle of "Inquiry Letters" have begun showing up at certain Native tobacco shops. The letters read that "The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an agency of the US Department of the Treasury... has received information that you may have held tobacco products for sale on April 1, 2009(the day the FET increase came into effect)." As such the TTB took it upon themselves to assess the tax liability, penalties and interest and include it in their letter of inquiry. Individuals have be assessed this tax in amounts that range from $50,000 to $1.5 Million and the "letters" keep rolling in.
Never before in our history has the federal government(or state) attempted to tax us for products that were in our possession on our territories after-the-fact. Never have they said that once the clock struck midnight on April 1, your paid in full purchases are no longer paid in full. Never before have they said, Oh yeah, by the way, that product you bought 3 years ago; you owe us $200,000 more on it and because it's three years later, make it $300,000 now for penalties and interest.
Two quick meetings, one with the office of one of the Congressmen who voted to pass this bill and one with the office of one of the US Senators who did as well, resulted in them coming to the conclusion that this is "unintended". So now what? I simply suggested that if they didn't mean to pass a law that would once again be twisted into another affront to our sovereignty, not to mention an attempt to whisk away tens of millions of dollars(maybe 100's when all the "letters" are sent) away from Native communities, that they fix it. I suggested that if we were not specified in the law, that he IRS and TTB are making a huge assumption. I also said that even if it was intended, it assumes authority that has no foundation in law anywhere. I offered to help them raise the question by offering to meet with the White House Senior Adviser on Native American Affairs to discuss the issue if they would facilitate such a meeting. One nagging issue with the "letters" is the 45 day time limit to respond called out in them. I suggested while some may respond to the Inquiry Letters by requesting more time to address the issue, many would not. I encouraged the legislators to call off the TTB dogs to allow them more time to resolve this and to stay out in front of the IRS or TTB taking any action against Native people on this.
Hopefully level heads will prevail and a simple phone call from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will make this go away. Wouldn't it be great if simple and direct talks could resolve conflicts like this, without lawyers, lobbyists, PR firms or bank account seizures, arrests or Thruway closures? Let's hope and stay vigilant.

Do you believe me now that we have to get our voices out there?

Well if one thing should be painfully obvious, "Let's Talk Native..." is an important voice for an under-served people. The media was perfectly content with New York State Senator Mark Grisanti's version of his altercation at the Seneca Niagara Casino last Friday night . They were fine with painting Native people in the worst possible light over this whole mess. It was only through my show, my guests and the cell phone video of one of my phone guests that this story began being questioned. If you are offended that the truth is coming out, don't support my show. If you liked Mr. Grisanti's unchallenged version of his altercation, don't support my show. If you think the main stream media is doing a fine job without a Native voice among them, then by all means, do not support my show. But if you want to learn about Native issues, if you care to understand a Native perspective, if you think there is value in challenging how poorly the main stream media characterizes Native issues and events, then support "Let's Talk Native...with John Kane". Give us a listen. Call, comment, agree, disagree; but Let's Talk. I promise to be respectful; no racial slurs, no savage attacks and if you don't "know who the *#@& I am, that's OK. If you are Native and you haven't listened and if you don't support a Native voice on Western New York's air waves, then my show isn't for you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Seneca's Half a Billion Dollar Question

There is no question that the State breached the Exclusivity Clause of the Gaming Compact with the Senecas. There MAY be some question as to whether the breach will (or should) cost the State all of the revenue it is hoping for, but only because of some very clever wordsmithing by the writers.
You see the "gaming devices" the State has installed in their own facilities DO breach the exclusivity agreement but the State is hoping that their "machines" fit into a "catagory" (not class) that allows them only to lose revenue from the Seneca's "machines" that fit into the same "category". Of course most of them won't.
Never mind that the entire spirit of the agreement has been breached by the State's proliferation of their own "casinos" and "racinos", clearly in the region carved out in the agreement. Everything from the scale to the financing of the Seneca gaming facilities relied on the premise that elimination of the threat of competition was purchased from the State with a percentage; kind of like buying protection from the mob. Only in this case the State has less honor.
So the State, as the regulators, with its unfettered access to the information on how many, what "category" of machines the Senecas operate and of course the revenue flow for each, makes the financial calculations and, ultimately, the decision that they can breach the agreement, pull significant customers and revenue away from the Seneca enterprises and STILL get paid their "protection" money.
The Senecas, for their part, finally stop paying. Under the advice of their "policy advisor", Rob Porter, the Senecas began to escrow the would-be payments. Now as that escrow account approaches $500,000,000.00 and the "policy advisor" is the Seneca Nation President, the question can only be: now what?
President Rob now suggests, having forced the issue of arbitration, that this money may indeed be lost in arbitration. Again, so now what?
The buzz is that half a billion dollars can buy a lot of favors, for someone. Who ever could be credited with getting this prize to the financially beleaguered State coffers sure would be owed a debt of gratitude (or something).
The half a billion dollar question is: who is getting played?
Do the Senecas really need to pay their "non-compete" protection money to their breaching competitors? Will this decision ever really make it to arbitration? Or will President Rob buy a partnership with Governor Andrew to secure his future beyond his gig with the Senecas? $500 million certainly will get someone something.
Is it possible that the very person who advised the hold back, convinced the Senecas they didn't owe it, already failed in an attempt to pay out some of it, is wearing out his welcome in his political party, community and nation and certainly is looking to advance himself past the Seneca Nation Presidency; was playing everyone all along? I guess maybe there is no half a billion dollar question but rather half a billion questions.