The recent legal decision in the case of King Mountain Tobacco v. the State of Washington has become quite the topic in reservation business conversation. A regressive trend has developed across Turtle Island, if one also includes the announcement of the lawsuit filed by the State of New York versus Grand River Enterprises (GRE) and Native Wholesale Supply (NWS), as well as other state actions against HCI Distribution, a business owned by the Winnebago Tribe. This pattern sees the systemic restriction of native-owned business who engaged in commerce on Turtle Island involving one of the continent’s indigenous crops, as well as one of the four original sacred medicines, tobacco.
While the legal implications for the officers and principals of these named businesses are unavoidable points to consider, the bird’s eye view of the larger picture at hand is more inclusive of all
Onkwehonweh (Original People). The sake of Indian country as we know it today is intrinsically affected.
A hobbled national native economy only increases the pressure locally on reservation communities.
This negative slide did not begin overnight. One must go back to the point in time when native history was recorded orally, and colonial records were kept by quill and ink.
Treaty negotiations were sought by colonial powers at various times for various reasons. Onkwehonweh nations entertained the requests, granting many on a case-by-case basis. The allowances were recorded by each camp appropriately. Over time, the political winds shifted, allowing greater demands by the colonial interests, until those treaty processes ended entirely in 1868.
Many will acknowledge that under the United States Constitution, treaties are the law of the land. An equal number will also fail to acknowledge that the treaties were accommodated to the needs of the colonial powers, not the Onkwehonweh. The treaty rights exemplified were not delineated to show native political license; rather they were struck in writing to show the afforded colonial needs. Indian perspective was embodied by wampum belt.
I keep hearing the phrase “to the victors go the spoils” as an explanation of why the modern interpretation of treaty rights has become such a dead end for tribal politics and enrolled members alike. The social progressives urging native activists to “get over it” fail to incorporate the appropriate considerations into their tidy assertions.
Onkwehonweh retained all of the remaining political rights that were not granted exclusively through the treaties to the colonists.
Without this context, it is a slippery slope to the plight seen today, now routinely, in legal arguments which reduce North American Indian treaty rights to footnotes and curiosity. At this rate, the celebration of any land based rights which will survive for future generations to exercise, will be strictly nostalgic.
By any measure, these could be considered radical developments, no matter one’s level of interest in the socio-economic well-being of Onkwehonweh commerce. At the heart of this expression is an even greater concern. An unemployed reservation is a non-growing community. Growth is life.
Following this maxim, the New York State Senate Select Committee on State-Native American Relations recently convened a summit in Albany on the topic of “Building a New Era of Respect and Economic Partnership.” The agenda showed an interest to focus on “creating jobs and growing New York’s local, regional and state economy.” Another aspect that was highlighted was the “strengthening the government relations between New York State and Indian Nations.”
Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter offered his published opinion of the gathering. As the first such meeting of its kind, credit was extended to the uniqueness of the event. “Success was not an accident or a random coincidence,” he stated, in reference to the regional impact of the Oneida Indian Nation enterprises, such as the Turning Stone Resort. “We should be rejecting the destructive politics of division and embracing a politics that strengthens the relationship between the state and Indian nations for the long haul.” (Indian Country Today Media Network is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation.)
Other statements coming out of the summit presented consistent perspectives.
Ayasunuqak, also known as Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkechaug Nation, of Long Island, stated his people were “located there since the ice receded.” He expressed that “reasonable people can reasonably differ,” in reference to government lawsuits filed against Unkechaug businesses. A recent award of $10 million was announced by the City of New York against named defendants in the case. Efforts to tax commerce on the Poospatuck Reservation will not be accepted, Wallace announced, and in fact would be resisted by his people. “We have a (commercial) relationship that predates the United States of America… with our northern friends and allies (with other Indian Nations).” Ayasunuqak offered. “We have the right to trade without interference…nothing has changed.”
The understanding of that original existence resonates within Onkwehonweh. Other Turtle Island inhabitants seem to be struggling with that, however.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.