From: Gary Hunt at the Outpost of Freedom on the Onondaga Reservation, New York
Date: October 4, 1993 Phone: (315) xxx-xxxx
In March, 1983, Kenneth Papineau, an Onondaga Indian who had spent nearly twenty years in high steel work, fulfilled a dream to open a smoke shop on the Onondaga Nation Reservation just South of Syracuse, New York. There had been cigarettes sold by the pack, along with clothes and other items, but never before a full-scale shop with cartons, tax free, as the primary venture. The Tribal Council approved the enterprise in a verbal meeting which included a 15 cents per carton tax to be paid quarterly, and a six month exclusive license. Two months later the Council approached Papineau with a bounced check and an electric bill for a few hundred dollars. They wanted an advance so that the lights would not be shut off in the Longhouse. This was paid, without question.
After the first six months the Council started acting as if they had not agreed to the terms that were approved six months prior. The agreement was submitted, in writing, but the Council refused to sign on the basis that "oral tradition" was the only way they worked. The council wanted the store turned over to the Nation. About this time the owner of the property began asking for a much larger monthly lease payment.
In 1984 Papineau moved his business to the current location. The land was purchased, this time, to avoid problem that had occurred with the previous landlord. During construction there was a fire. One of the chiefs ordered the Fire Department not to perform and arson investigation. Later approval was given for the investigation - the results, arson!
Finally, in August 1984, the current location of Smoke Signals was opened for business, this time including gasoline sales and a diner. This time, however, Papineau agreed to an increase to 25 cents per carton. Oliver Hill and Cook received license under the same terms.
In 1988, Papineau and Hill stopped paying the tax on the cigarette sales. They had yet to see one penny spent to benefit the Nation. Certain leaders were driving nice cars, trips were taken to the far corners of the earth, and not one single project beneficial to the Nation, as a whole, resulted from the tax.
During the ensuing four five years Papineau and Hill contributed to the Nation, from the escrow account which held all taxes not paid to the Nation. Their contributions included installing 64 water wells and pumps (32 of the homes provided for had never had water before), a ball field and a lacrosse box for the younger People of the Nation. Papineau has kept records of all taxes and expenditures, and has taken the responsibility because he felt that the tax should be used to provide improvements to the People rather than provide a cushy living for the chiefs. I guess you could say he is willing to pay his taxes, but is not willing to pay tribute to the chiefs.
On April 1 Papineau went to the Council prepared to show his books. He asked the Council to show their books for the taxes collected, and spent. The Council gave an oral report, which excluded expenditures, but have nothing in writing (remember, oral tradition). So, Papineau, Hill and Donald Rockwell were all blockaded inside their establishments. Cook and Freem, the only remaining businesses, remain open and continue to pay their taxes.
Although Hill and Papineau continue to conduct their businesses, their income is greatly reduced as a result of the blockade. Nation members are split, even within households, over who is right and who is wrong. In the mean time the "illegal existing businesses" continue to ask for an accounting of over three million dollars in tax revenue that is unaccounted for. Papineau continues to make plans to create a youth recreation building on some property he owns. The blockaders continue, save for a few days off for religious observances. The phone is back on, as is the power, after acts of vandalism, observed by witnesses, discontinued both for a few days. The revenue that had resulted in benefits for the Nation is reduced to nearly nothing and the outcome is as unclear now as it was 6 months ago.
Perhaps it is time for both sides to sit down and work out something that would be agreeable to both sides, or, perhaps it is time to find chiefs who have wisdom, and the best interest of the Nation, to preclude problems such as this.
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