It takes great discipline and courage to continue writing about something you know very few people care about. OK, maybe courage is the wrong word. Too self-important. Let me start over.
One must be either extremely disciplined or extraordinarily stupid to continue writing about something no one gives a shit about. There, that’s better. Such is my plight with respect to defending the rights of Indians to sell tobacco products on reservation land to anyone—reservation residents and non-residents alike— without collecting taxes imposed by New York State. The lack of support for this issue has enabled powerful interests to (here come the puns) circle the wagons and attack sovereign Indian nations with impunity. Michael Bloomberg, the Lilliputian mayor of the tiny island next to our spacious and exotic Long Island, is like J. Edgar Hoover incarnate in his obsessive pursuit of Indian tobacco merchants.
Most recently Bloomberg released tapes from city investigators who were sent to the Poospatuck reservation in Mastic. The findings on the tapes were shocking. The merchants on the film were caught in the act of selling cigarettes without collecting the $4.35 tax! For the six or seven non-Indians who either care about this issue or are reading this on the toilet and have nothing better to do, allow me to explain for the umpteenth time why this practice isn’t illegal.
Here’s the breakdown: Federal treaties and state compacts with Indian tribes recognize the sovereign, independent status of these nations and their ability to operate businesses free of taxation from the United States. Under Gov. Mario Cuomo it was determined that Indian tobacco retailers should be required to collect taxes on behalf of New York State, sparking numerous lawsuits and disputes that continue to this day. But these rules were adopted unilaterally in New York without consulting the Indian tribes. For these laws to be properly enacted and adhered to by the tribes, they would have to be recognized and adopted separately by each Indian nation located in state territory, which they obviously have not been. And there’s the rub. New York believes Indian retailers should be collecting New York taxes from the sale of cigarettes because they passed a law that says so. Indian reservation retailers follow tribal law, which says they do not have to collect taxes.
The answer lies within the original treaties that govern U.S. and Indian relations. Unless there is mutual agreement between sovereign Indian nations and U.S. government entities, neither can impose their laws upon the other, particularly with respect to taxation. Take away all of the fighting and grandstanding. Shelve the reports and close down the hearings. This is the answer and only thing that matters.
Unfortunately, the law doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to this issue. When New York blew all of the funds from the federal tobacco settlement and drove the budget deficit to something close to three gazillion dollars through mismanagement, it imposed enormous sin taxes on tobacco. The only thing the Indians did is keep on keeping on. But because of the price disparity created by the sin tax on smokes, reservation-based retailers have enjoyed an unprecedented and sustained spike in business, making the penniless legislators in New York, well, a little mad. Yes, the same people who messed up the state’s finances are upset that their tax-and-spend philosophy has benefited the poorest inhabitants of the state.
Now consider this: The state budget department acknowledges that more than 70 percent of untaxed tobacco entering New York comes from border states and Canada, not Indian reservations. So if you buy 59 cartons of cigarettes in Weehawken and smoke them all 20 feet from the doors of the Empire State Building, you’re fine. Take a day trip to Philly to see the Liberty Bell, grab a cheese steak and a pack of Marlboros for the road? Smoke ’em if you got ’em! But buy cigarettes from an Indian, and you might find yourself on Mayor Mike’s candid camera doing something completely legal and getting ridiculed for it.
Because the issue has become so complex, and the Indians have generated so little support outside reservation territories, there’s only one thing left to do with these people. Finish the job the settlers started and wipe them out. After Mayor Bloomberg publicly encouraged Gov. David Paterson to “get a cowboy hat and a shotgun” and confront Indians on the New York State Thruway, we can assume that Bloomberg will be on board the genocide train—though he may want to reconsider the blind guy leading the charge with a shotgun. Tiny Mike can hop in a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted tank and lead a group of Army reservists through all of the reservations in the state and probably annihilate the rest of the nuisance redskins in under a week. Hell, Poospatuck is only 55 acres, he could take them in less than an hour.
If it was any other population in Suffolk County, I would suggest getting County Executive Steve Levy involved to help deport them but since they are indigenous people whose ancestors were here long before us, there’s really no place to send them. Therefore, shooting them—like Bloomberg suggested—is probably the only practical solution. He’s a real visionary in an Andrew Jackson/Pol Pot sort of way. Another benefit is the amount of time I would personally be able to reclaim if Bloomberg was allowed to simply kill all of the Indians like he suggested. I could work on my tennis game, take up lawn bowling or buy a pack of cigarettes every day from Jersey and blow smoke up the mayor’s skirt like everyone else does instead of telling him what an asshole he is for trying to eradicate indigenous people from America.
If you wish to comment on “Off the Reservation,” send your message to email@example.com