Rambling thoughts on Native taxation in that Empire of States, New York

[Flag of New York]

Native taxation is like tossing gasoline-filled balloons around an open campfire; sooner or later somebody's going to drop the balloon and all hell's going to break loose.

"Gee, we had NO idea..."

Uh huh.  It's as if more than two hundred years of political, social, cultural and diplomatic disagreements have suddenly disappeared or been forgotten.  There are no shortages of people who would wish the entire Native taxation would simply do either - disappear or be forgotten - but for Cryin' Out Loud Just Settle The Damn Thing Once And For All.

Hey.  Here's a newsflash:

The damn thing isn't going to be settled until people and governments understand... and accept... the nature of sovereignty of the First Nations.  Period.

OK.  Next discussion.

Flippancy aside, there are extremely relevant and valid points to both sides of the issue.  That's what makes the Native taxation issue so complex and difficult to sort out... there are no easy answers, only difficult concessions.  And after a few hundred years of concessions, the First Nations aren't in much of a conciliatory mood.

On the one hand, there are non-Native retailers who are watching the stream of cars pass their businesses on the way to buy cheaper gas and smokes because they're not being charged sales tax at Native-owned and -operated businesses.  "Unfair" claim the non-Native business owners.

On the OTHER hand, Native business owners are taking advantage of contractual agreements made between Native and non-Native governments called Treaties which are still in effect.  A businessperson who does not avail themselves to any advantage at their disposal does not stay in business very long... which includes non-Native businesses that are able to undercut competitors' prices from buying in bulk.  With no price controls in effect, should WalMart be forced to raise their prices so that the Mom and Pop stores are able to compete?

No easy answers.  Somebody's going to walk away from the final decision very pissed off, that's a given.


Never thought very highly of violence as a means to make a point.  It always seemed like it created more problems than it solved and who needs more problems than we've already got?

But having said that, when there are NO - and I do mean NO - other options available, violence has a way of making front page news in a world of media sensationalism.  I don't advocate violence... I don't even condone it.  But I understand where the motivation behind an act of violence may be driven PARTLY out of a desire to draw attention (and hopefully, support) to a particular contentious issue.

There are many other motivating factors behind an act of violence of course... simmering rage which boils over, frustration and a sense of helplessness, even something 'cool' to do... but ultimately, violence has a way of swaying those middle-of-the-roaders over to an opponents side.  Violence is not a universally accepted way of resolving disputes and quite the contrary, only adds fuel to the fire.

What to do?  

What to do indeed.

"Now just what in HELL is this 'sovereign nations' crap anyway?  You live, work and receive benefits in the United States... you're able to vote in 'our' elections, you attend 'our' schools and you're protected by 'our' Constitution.  Hell, if you weren't Americans, you people would still be living in teepees or whatever you call those things and wearing animal skins to keep warm.  NOW you say you're NOT part of the United States and yet you expect us to dump 'our' hard-earned tax dollars in 'your' trailer-ridden communities."

 Aging stereotpyes...

The myth and perception...

Ahhhhh... 'we' love you too.  With that sort of sentiment and open-mindedness, we'll all get along just fine.

Sovˇerˇeignˇty    n.    1.  Supremacy of authority or rule.    2.  Royal rank, authority, or power.     3.  Complete independence and self-government.

Above all else, it needs to be remembered - and fully understood - a First Nation such as the Mohawk Nation NEVER agreed to disband its own system of governance, culture or society.  NEVER.

It NEVER agreed to such an understanding in the 1700's.  Or in the 1800's.  Or 1900's or even in the 21st Century.  NEVER.

The passage of time doesn't alter this fact.  The passage of time hasn't, in any way shape or form, 'gradually' diluted the independent nature of this Nation.  The Mohawk Nation, along with other First Nations, remains as distinct as long before the first European ever swatted a mosquito in these lands.  That has NOT changed and will NOT be likely to change over the passage of another two or three hundred years... and beyond.

There are those who choose to neglect contractual agreements such as a thirty-year mortgage after making payments for the first 20 years.  The bank, realizing it would cost more than it would be worth to pursue the deadbeats, writes off the bad debt and sells it to another agency who tries to collect.

Is the deadbeat off the hook for the payments?  Is the house in question legally theirs?  No and no.

  Cookhouse, Oneida Nation Territory, NY

Do they have an obligation to fulfill the terms of the agreement regardless of how much time has passed?

Morally, ethically... but most importantly... LEGALLY, yes.  Five, ten, fifty or one hundred years after the fact make no difference.  'Clear title' is a legal requisite for the transfer of ownership of a piece of property.  Without it, there can be a very compelling case as to whether ANY of the previous owners actually had the right - legal or otherwise - to exchange a particular piece of property.  A 'title search' makes the determination as to the validity of any and all previous transfers of ownership.

Two points here:

First, tracing back to the 1950's... the 1920's... the 1850's... the 1780's... at what point did, say... the Mohawk Nation... ever decide to toss out its form of governance and jump on the Red White and Blue Bandwagon as full fledged Americans?

The truth and reality...

It never did.  Over the course of two hundred years, it slowly was ASSUMED the Mohawk Nation people were 'Americans' by virtue of geographic location as decided by non-Native surveyors and governments.  Lines in the sand, as it were, are just as easily erased by nature as they are drawn by man.

Secondly, at what point in time did lands which were specifically and painstakingly delineated by Treaties as Native lands (yet were grabbed by the new expansion-minded Americans) suddenly become 'clear titled' and available for transfer to whoever slapped up a log cabin?

From the Canandaigua (Pickering) Treaty of 1794:

The land of the Seneca Nation is bounded as follows: beginning on Lake Ontario, at the northwest corner of the land they sold to Oliver Phelps; the line runs westerly along the lake, as far as Oyongwongyeh Creek, at Johnson's Landing Place, about four miles eastward, from the fort of Niagara; then southerly, up that creek to its main fork, continuing the same straight course, to that river; (this line, from the mouth of Oyongwongyeh Creek, to the river Niagara, above Fort Schlosser, being the eastern boundry of a strip of land, extending from the same line to Niagara River, which the Seneca Nation ceded to the King of Great Britain, at the treaty held about thirty years ago, with Sir William Johnson;) then the line runs along the Niagara River to Lake Erie, to the northwest corner of a triangular piece of land, which the United States conveyed to the State of Pennsylvania, as by the President's patent, dated the third day of March, 1792; then due south to the northern boundary of that State; then due east to the southwest corner of the land sold by the Seneca Nation to Oliver Phelps; and then north and northerly, along Phelps' line, to the place of beginning, on the Lake Ontario. Now, the United States acknowledge all the land within the aforementioned boundaries, to be the property of the Seneca Nation; and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneca Nation, nor any of the Six Nations, or of their Indian friends residing thereon, and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment thereof; but it shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same, to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase.

( Link )

The area specified in Article 3 as detailed above includes most of the western portion of New York State.

  "...Until they choose to sell the same, to the people of the UNITED STATES, who have a right to purchase" means if the Seneca Nation decided to sell the specified lands, it could only sell to the FEDERAL government of the United States... not the STATE government of New York State or any individual, group or company.  Any and all land transfers which were sold in a manner other than to the FEDERAL government was a breach of the terms of the Treaty which was signed and duly witnessed by representatives of both the United States and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

So where do we go from here?

There's no mistaking New York State is in a world of financial hurt.  Upstate New York is sliding downhill faster than a cafeteria tray sled on ice and there's really no brilliant beam of light which is pointing to any immediate and dramatic change.  GW Bush's Great Economic Recovery has bounced cheerfully over this area and onto more dynamic and more visible regions of the country - of which Upstate NY is neither.

We're Plain Folks.  Pretty conservative and conventional by nature, we lack the spark and sparkle of the Downstate NY areas including Westchester County, Long Island and of course, The Big Noise... errr... APPLE.  I personally like Downstate NYers... they've got the chutzpah (along with money and power) which keeps New York State from being as exciting as white bread and water.  Upstaters aren't boring.. they're just more reserved in their ways and are masters at evading unpleasantries.  Non-confrontation in social or political issues is a guiding principle.

As such, when an issue of local concern is raised there's a tendency to address the matter in a REactive manner as opposed to a more educated PROactive fashion.  Understanding the minutia is, well... too unpleasant and onerous on our daily lives of jobs, kids and the home.  Rather than examine the details behind the issues, Upstaters react to the symptoms of the matter and pass judgment on those actions.  A burning tire on the Thruway is seen as more threatening than trashing the contractual agreements specified in the Treaties.

And so it goes.  The tire fires are put out... the Thruway's open... and all the minivans are free to shuttle the kids to the Bunny Slopes of Kissing Bridge Ski Resort.  Life is good.

And little to nothing has been resolved.

Seneca-DASH-Niagara Casino.  

In Niagara Falls NEW YORK no less.

 The Seneca-Niagara Casino website

Sheesh.  During the faddish heyday of municipalities rushing out to construct massive buildings called 'convention centers', the city of Niagara Falls NY decided to jump on the bandwagon and build a magnificent concrete Quonset hut and pinned hopes of economic revival by drawing national political conventions or something.

It was a bit of a bust.  Oh... there were a few RV shows and the like, but the anticipated fleets of 767's dumping conventioneers en masse just never happened.

Poor NF NY.  It's really a dump of a city and with the infamous claim of Home of Love Canal, it needs all the help it can buy, beg or steal.  Tourists are still flowing to the Canadian side as fast as the flowing Niagara River, yet NF NY keeps trying to put on some dowdy, outdated frock the folks will admire.

NF NY has always had this sort of tired, worn out look to it.  I personally have a soft spot for the place myself as the residents have this certain animated and lively quality.  Yes, yes... NF ON is cleaner, prettier, safer, friendlier, more accommodating and generally a more desirable place to be... but the people of NF NY have a streak of tradition, honesty (except for its government), unpretentiousness and warmth that is unmistakable.  They are genuine and in a world of image-consciousness, that's getting to be a rare and prized attribute.

It's also a bit of a party town in the sense that good food and good drink never seem to be in short supply even though businesses and industries have left the community with a glut of available commercial properties as they bail out.  Gotta admire a town which can still throw a great party while company parking lots are empty and For Sale signs are everywhere one turns.  That's NF NY for you.

 The Seneca-Niagara Casino website In short, I like NF NY.  A lot.  And I'm all for anything that will help the place out... short of building more damn industrial complexes along the Niagara River.  (Ye gads... one look at these places along Pine Avenue is enough to send one running to a cancer center to be checked out.  In all fairness, it's far better than it used to be though.)  If the Seneca-DASH-Niagara Casino located in the old Niagara Falls Convention Center will help the community... go for it.

And if the Seneca Nation wishes to offer tax-reduced cigarettes at the Casino, go for that as well.  The Duty Free shops can rake in millions by selling products at tax-reduced prices; why deny a First Nation the right to at least attempt to support itself using the legal advantages it has guaranteed to it?

Non-Native New Yorkers whine incessantly about having THEIR tax dollars supporting Native communities within NYS; here's a chance to allow the Nations to provide businesses which can generate both capital and jobs.  

The smaller Mom and Pop operations?  Well, it's not as if a free market economy has been in their corner all this time anyway.  If customers were so adamantly opposed to patronizing a business with an 'unfair' tax advantage, the Native businesses would go under in a flash.  Customers vote with their wallets and I believe that's called a consumer's freedom of choice.

Greed is unattractive no matter on which side of the fence one is sitting.

What's next?  Is there going to be physical confrontations between Native and non-Native forces over the taxations issue in New York State. 

Sure looks that way.  Eventually, two stubborn-minded powers will square off and out will come the cufflinks, padlocks and court orders.  Lawyers will become the first-line defenders and enormous sums of money will be lost and gained.  In a country where justice is won by those with the deepest pockets, (did they ever find out who killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman?  No??  Just checking.) money may be the determining factor in whether the consumer forks over state tax or not.

And if the proceeds of a casino enterprise are pitted against a group of convenience store operators, in a court of law anyway, the results may be predictable.

In a court of law, that is.  If it comes down to serving state papers on a business before all is said and done, well... the results might NOT be so predictable.  That's what I fear.  That's what NY Governor George Pataki fears.

I don't generally have much sympathy for a Republican (or any) governor of this state... in this case though, Governor Pataki is in a no-win situation and will suffer enormously no matter which way he decides to move.  Such is the fate of those who aspire to the dizzying heights of political or financial power; they deserve every sling and arrow that's aimed their way. 

Don't like the job description?  Then don't apply.  Trying to please everybody is a truly pointless endeavour and there are certain givens which go with every job.  The Governor needs to remember his first priority is to be guided by the laws of the State and not the whims of the most prominent voter demographic.  Evading the State Constitution in favor of political strategies is a guaranteed recipe for trouble.  Pleasing the electorate at the expense of justice has been repeatedly knocked down by the United States Supreme Court as recent NYS Land Claim issues have shown.

This is the 21st Century.  Gone are the days of trinkets, promises of broadcloth and pennies-an-acre offers.  Reasonable, intelligent discussions infused with respect and dignity are capable of producing mutually equitable resolutions.  That represents the Idealist's assessment and goal in dispute settlements.

Somewhere, somehow and some time in that equation, other priorities and issues cloud the proceedings.  That's the Realist's point of view.

And Reality always has a way of nudging aside the Ideal. 

Somebody's going to walk away from the final decision very pissed off.

And that's a given.

We New York .

(We're just not sure how much New York 's us.)