Akwesasane/ NY State Tax agreements

topic posted Wed, March 7, 2007 - 8:53 AM by  White Wolf
My friends,
This piece is shared with permission from our Akwesasne friend, Doug George-Kanentiio. He shares some wonderful wisdom.
Blessings to you all,
Wahela Bluejay

Analysis of Tribe's Tax Agreement with New York State

┬ęby Doug George-Kanentiio

In January, 1976 the New York State devoted an edition of its "Conservationist" magazine to examine the then status of the Iroquois. One chapter was authored by Dale White, a student at Princeton University at the time and now one of the lawyers for the St. Regis Tribal Council. Mr. White elected to entitle his chapter "We Can Never Go Back to the Woods Again". I read his piece 30 years ago and it has never ceased to disturb me. Its clear rejection of our ancestral teachings and ecological spirituality, in effect the essence of our identity as aboriginal people, was stunning since it was written by a highly educated Mohawk and one who was unaffected by the great social changes which were sweeping through indigenous communities everywhere.

Mr. White and I are of the same age, ours was a generation which experienced the most profound challenges to our existence as Mohawks since Akwesasne was reestablished in the 1740's. Throughout the late 1960's and most of the 70's Akwesasne was a major center for Native people seeking to establish contact with each other and relearn how they might exercise their power as distinct nations. The Haudenosaunee, and in particular the Mohawks, were at the front of this powerful action as we travelled the world to promote the idea that we are separate from Canada and the US and that we must preserve our heritage by sustaining our Native governments, our culture and our spirituality. If we were to survive we would have no choice but to "go back to the woods". If we rejected our duties as custodians of a living earth then we would condemn the next generation to an era of catastrophic climatic, social and political changes, all of which are now coming to pass.

Mr. White was not a part of the generation which turned towards an affirmation of our culture as the only viable way we could preserve Akwesasne as a Mohawk community, best expressed by our traditional teachings. We were instructed by longhouse people that it was how one thought which was important, that a person had to have values of such depth and strength they could never be compromised. We were students not of college professors but learned by listening, truly listening, to the words of teachers such as Ray Fadden, Jake Thomas, Leon Shenandoah, Ron Lafrance Sr., Jake Swamp, Tom Porter, Ira Benedict and many others. It made a great difference in how we saw ourselves, how we viewed our history and which principles we would embrace as we walked through this life.

This is a preliminary to an analysis of the Tribe's latest venture into the murky waters of New York State politics. It has everything to do with the thinking which is guiding the current Tribal trustees and how they have secured an admirable level of formal education but lack any kind of balance because they have little or no understanding of the Mohawk Nation. Without having a truly Mohawk perspective they find it easy to make the serious compromises in the February 17th agreement and are mystified as to why the Mohawk people are so upset.

But the trustees are only partially to blame. They may well believe that the agreement will make the Tribe rich since the acquisition of material wealth is what they have been told by the external elements is most important in life. More money, more fame, more power versus the Mohawk values of simplicity, humility, generosity. The people of Akwesasne permitted the trustees to create a fantasy world in which the Tribe runs a string of casinos, pays New York taxes, abides by all State laws and somehow lays claim to Mohawk sovereignty. This agreement is a warning to Akwesasne that it is time to bring the trustees back to reality beginning with the harsh truth that these servants of the people, these trustees, are about to effect their own destruction should they go down this dangerous path.

The February 17 agreement is one big compromise in our collective rights. It begins with a lie, that the Tribe is on an equal legal footing with New York. It is not. The Tribe is a state agency created by New York in 1892 to undermine and destroy the Mohawk Nation. It does not have the authority under Mohawk law to enter into contracts with New York.

The agreement binds the Tribe to accept State authority over all trade and commerce at Akwesasne, not just tobacco. Is there anyone foolish enough to believe that a US court will rule that this only applies to cigarettes? Once a cession as to regulation is made on one product it must be applied to everything sold to anyone not a member of the Tribe. Sorry, you "Canadian" Mohawks-you will have to pay the same taxes as any non-Native. Got a problem with that? This agreement takes away the rights of the Mohawk people to resolve disputes which occur on our land and places it in the hands of state officials. Now who is dumb enough to believe Governor Spitzer will endorse anything which will actually strengthen Mohawk sovereignty? Is there anyone, outside of the Tribe's lawyers, who thinks a US or State court would rule in our favour? Check out Oneida Nation of New York v. the City of Sherrill for a hard dose of judicial reality.

The agreement will require the wholesalers to collect state taxes prior to delivery of products to Akwesasne. That tax will then be paid by the retailer or manufacturer before they get their order. This way, the State tax collectors don't have to enter the mean roads of Akwesasne with their calculators and state trooper escorts. We should also acknowledge that what the Tribe is planning to do will be applied to every Iroquois community-it is a repeat of the 'divide and conquer" tactics of the US-let the Tribe take the heat for this tax deal while Spitzer says he was only doing what is right by him.

The agreement extends the jurisdiction of the US courts into Akwesasne. Whatever "courts" the Tribe is creating (and in New York State's image) will have nothing to say about this compact; any disputes will be taken to the US District Court. Despite a cadre of Mohawk lawyers now working for "their" community the Tribe failed to find a way to make our traditional conflict resolution methods work. Their attitude is what they have been taught: adversarial, winner take all, let the no-Native judge decide.

The agreement is being pressed upon by Governor Spitzer because he wants all the Iroquois nations to pay state taxes and is using the weakest link among us to secure a deal. The Tribal trustees know they must agree to his terms if they want the Monticello casino but what they are not admitting is that such an operation will be managed, operated and controlled by non-Natives- whether it is the manager who pays himself a million dollars a year or the state taxation officials keeping track of every penny. It is illogical to expect the Tribe, operating at a huge financial deficit, to be able to control the Monticello casino. The trustees will have no choice but to sign virtually every vital element of the casino operation over to an entity such as Empire Resorts which will, in turn, cut huge chunks of cash from the profits for various "operating" expenses.

The agreement is a preliminary to the final Monticello deal. Remember your Mohawk history tribal trustees. Sullivan County, where Monticello is located, was never a part of Mohawk territory. We have no claim whatsoever to the region. Our southern boundary was the East Branch of the Delaware River. Yes, there are speculators from Akwesasne and elsewhere buying up tracts of land around Monticello but they can never claim it is Mohawk territory. All US and state laws, from taxes to environmental regulations, will be harshly imposed upon by the Tribe. No exception.

There are other faults with the agreement. It is a waiver of Native sovereignty. It strengthens the power of the US courts on Mohawk land. It restricts what minor tax exemption status we have to our existing borders. It requires a complex system of record keeping, vouchers, and "rebates". It gives the Tribe the power to decide who is Mohawk and who is not. It has no allowances for expiration. It is permanent and cannot be revoked. It gives the Tribe the power to bind all Mohawks to the State.

And most, alarmingly, it cedes Akwesasne to New York by acknowledging our sacred lands now lie "within the State of New York".

And we can't go back to the woods? If the Tribe has its way that may be all we have left-minus the trees.
posted by:
White Wolf
  • March 3 Meeting at St. Regis Tribal Council

    Wed, March 7, 2007 - 8:58 AM
    Here is another report from Doug-
    Wahela Bluejay


    I spoke to a number of people who were at the March 3 monthly public meeting at the St. Regis Tribal Council at Akwesasne. The session takes place in an odd room-the tribal leader sit behind a long table while the people are either on chairs before them, standing on a set of stairs leading to the second story tribal offices or leand against a railing overseeing the open space above the leaders. It can be physically intimidating for the officials. There are six members of the tribal council: three "chiefs" and three "subchiefs" each of who serve a three year term on a rotating basis with annual elections taking place in June. There is one 'head chief" based on seniority. This system was created by an act of the New York State legislature in 1892 and has been a source of serious controversy for the Mohawks ever since. The State refers to these leaders as "trustees" and based the law upon the three individuals it would empower to cede Mohawk terrtory throughout the 19th century. Periodically, the Mohawks try and remove the tribal council and replace it with a traditional government only to have officials in Albany interevene to prop up the tribe with financial support or by sending in a contingent of state troopers. The last attempt took place in 1990 and resulted in civil war.
    On March 3 the issue of the day was the February 17 agreement entered into between some of the tribal leaders and the governor as negotiated by Richard Rifkin. The agreement is supposed to "clarify" the taxing of tobacco at Akwesasne and imposes a tax on sales of this product to non-Mohawks (it also taxes the "Canadian" based Akwesasne Mohawks as there is no mention of their tax exemption status). The taxes would be paid by the wholesaler and then imposed upon sales to Indian retailers. The Tribal Council would agree to abide by State laws and will also cede the critical point that Akwesasne "is located within New York State"-something which enrages the traditional people and many of the business owners. Head chief Jim Ransom rejected the deal, sub-chief Donald Thompson also refused to sign the deal. While Jim was at the meeting and remained quiet Thompson was conveniently "sick" and did not attend.
    These tribal meetings can often be heated and this was no exception. A couple hundred Mohawks were there with most of them opposed to the deal. They directed much of their anger towards Lorraine White, a tribal chief and US trained lawyer. She refused to concede anything to the crowd but sub-chief Ron Lafrance, a signatory to the deal, withdrew his support once he gauged the hostility of the assembly. He is supposed to send a letter to Rifkin summarizing his concerns and why he can no longer abide by the agreement. Donald Thompson is also opposed to it. Many of the speakers accused the tribe of "selling out" the Mohawks in order for the Monticello casino deal to go through and that the resolution of the tobacco taxes was a condition imposed upon the Tribe by Spitzer. The tribal officials denied repeatedly that the agreement was a tax only to be contradicted by head chief Ransom who has said it is a tax. Chiefs Barbara Lazore and White cited the potential profits from Monticello as a rationale for developing a working relationship with Spitzer but the crowd was not convinced. Some of them said the Monticello deal should be scrapped entirely or that the tribal officials should move to Sullivan County (that region is outside of the ancestral boundaries of the Mohawk Nation). Efforts were made to try and pass a popular resolution opposing the agreement but one of the tribe's lawyers said such decisions were "advisory" only and were not binding on the council. In the end, nothing was resolved and the agreement may well go through but if it does, and it may well have, there will be grave consequences at Akwesasne.


    Doug G.-Kanentiio

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