Smoke-Shop Review Panel Report

Update According to a panel, led by Brown University President Ruth Simmons, the creation of a state commission on tribal-state relations is recommended, for the purpose of developing an agreement between the state and tribe on cigarette taxes.

Story in Pictures: History Of Smoke Shop

Rhode Island State Police Raid Narragansett Indian Tribe Smoke Shop

Posted: July 16, 2003
By Annette M. Hall


Story Update – Governor gets heat for Police Action.

In a shocking display of force the Rhode Island State Police raided the Narragansett Indian tribe’s recently opened tax-free smoke shop. The vicious police attack sent eight tribal members to the hospital, another seven, including the chief landed in jail. A lawsuit against the state has been filed, according to press reports.

The state police were reportedly asked to show their court papers as they entered the lot but requests were ignored. The troopers, continued to swarm across the parking lot and entered the tax-free shop.

Several tribal members were wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. Meanwhile police confiscated the cigarettes remaining on the shelves and confiscated about $900 in cash.

The tribe had postponed opening the shop nearly two months while it attempted to work with state finacial advisers, to find other ways of becoming economically self-sufficient.

Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas told reporters hours after his arrest. “I personally blame the governor of this state and I think he should be ashamed of the actions that took place down here.”

Who could blame the Chief for being angry? Here is a tribe who gave up 3,200 acres of land in the heart of Charlestown in 1978, in exchange for 1,800 acres of land. Now unless that land had gold on it just waiting to be mined, that doesn’t seem fair at all. However the trade allowed them to escape relocation.

It all began when the State of Rhode Island had denied them tribal status for over 100 years, and sold their reservation lands. The state was able to get away with this dastardly deed because the Narragansett had never signed a treaty with the United States of America. Thus creating a legal loophole, in which to avoid compliance with the Non-interference Act of 1790.

In 1975, the Narragansett had filed a land reclaimation suit. Their land was finally returned to them, and their sovereignty upon the land finally recognized in 1978.

The agreement was codified as the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act 25 U.S.C. § § 1701-1716. In 1983, the Narragansetts finally earned federal recognition.

For years the State of Rhode Island and the tribe have been at odds. Most recently over the gambling issue.

It’s no secret that Native American Indians have been hit hard by high unemployment rates and high poverty rates with many relying on the welfare rolls to sustain themselves.

Gaming is a way of life in the Native American culture, and now more than ever, it has become a source of revenue and livelihood for an oppressed people.

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which confirmed the sovereign rights of tribes to regulate gaming on tribal lands, unless the state specifically forbids that certain kind of gambling.

In 1992, the Narragansett planned to build a casino on their Charleston reservation, when they were met with a federal court challenge brought by the state. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the tribe in October 1994, which allowed that them to build a casino on their land, much to the frustration of the state.

Equal Protection Under The Law

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states in part: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Couldn’t this have been handled in a more appropriate manner? Is that not what our courts are for? Is the State of Rhode Island so money-hungry that they can’t allow the Narragansett to earn a living in an honest manner?

Businesses on other American Indian properties are allowed to sell cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products free of state taxes. In fact, twenty states have used cigarettes to balance their 2002 budgets, Seneca Nation built a new tobacco distribution center on the Cattaraugus Reservation.

Those rules also apply in cyberspace. Tribal businesses like the Big Indian Smoke Shop are finding a nationwide market for their tax-free tobacco.

“All of the states hate us. But if they want to put us out of business, all they have to do is do away with the taxes,” said Ward of Seneca Nation.

Contact Governor Donald L. Carcieri

Sound Off!

Annette M. Hall

A Trip to the Capitol

Today (2001/03/01) I had the pleasure to take my wife and son to the California state capitol. We accompanied a group of homeschooling families that are in Sacramento for the next couple days on group field trips. We took the capitol tour together and had the opportunity to watch a session of the state assembly. Though, admittedly, I am not very familiar with our states laws, I am a self-declared minimalist – I believe less government is better in almost every regard.

Sacramento, CA

I had the ‘pleasure’ all right. There were at least two bills on the table for vote today. One of which specified March second as the ‘Nationwide Reading Day’ (or something to that effect). Nationwide? From a bill in CA? Amazing. I didn’t know we had that authority. What’s more, I was impressed to see the number of ‘co-authors’ for the bill. The total number was in the realm of seventy. Yes seventy. No, you’re not reading that incorrectly, and yes, we only have seventy-nine assembly ‘persons’. You’ll have to excuse those three or four that did not coauthor – I’m sure it wasn’t by design. I think they were all deathly ill, attending to funerals or otherwise incapable of being there for the opportunity to co-sponsor such important legislation. Yes, that was sarcasm; but unfortunately, no, I’m not making it up.

It’s important legislation like this that keeps me up at night. And rightfully so.

And that’s not all. Special consideration was made for the individuals (and families of) that lost their lives in the driving incident in Santa Barbara last week. With all due respects, the respect and ‘moment of silence’ are perfectly satisfactory, but it should be understood that it is little more than political posturing – of course. Especially when this ‘moment of silence’ was followed quickly by statements about how we need to work harder on handgun regulation – where did that come from? It was an AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT. No weapons of any kind were involved. But some politicians obviously felt it necessary to take that opportunity to speak out about their need to stifle your second amendment rights: over an auto accident.

After some more ludicrous discussion, the assembly came to a discussion about colon cancer being the second largest cause of death nationally – or something to that extent. I wasn’t sure exactly what the point of this discussion was, since they brought up several means of detecting colon cancer and how ‘simple’ it was to remove, if found in time. Great. There was discussion about how the legislators should have an ‘awareness campaign’ within their districts, but I don’t think there was any political force behind it. If people don’t want to go to doctors are they going to force them? Does the assembly hope to author a bill that would require Californians to get a rectal exam every year? What was the point of this?

My concern in this is that within the short session today (it couldn’t have been more than an hour and ten minutes) they managed to bring up both firearm legislation and something to do with people dying from colon cancer. Why? I think they should instead spend their time and energy fighting the greater evil of our state: stupidity. I think that if you look back at each murder, accidental death and ‘near death experience’ throughout the world, much less the country or ‘tiny’ state of California, you’ll find that the number one cause of death and accidents is *stupidity*. Where is the drive to educate people on common sense, or to eliminate the widespread following that stupidity claims? In fact, stupidity is so abundant that several of the assembly ‘persons’ were obviously infected. Where is the call to arms against it now? I think you’ll hold your breath a long time if you wait for it.

Remember, you won’t always be in the majority.


Shawn K. Hall