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We owe no tobacco taxes

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Editor;s note: The following is an open letter from the Seneca Free Trade Association.

The Seneca Free Trade Association is a private, non-profit cooperative association comprised of individuals and businesses licensed by the Seneca Nation of Indians. We are dedicated to developing commerce and industry within and around the Territories of the Seneca Nation.

Seneca Indian business owners have great respect for their friends, neighbors and customers in New York state. We truly appreciate their loyal support and patronage. We are proud that our Seneca Indian businesses have contributed much to, and have had such a profound and positive impact on the economy of Western New York and other parts of New York state.

Nevertheless, we are both saddened and angered by the continued attacks upon our indigenous rights and sovereignty by narrow-minded New York politicians and government officials. Most recently, these unlawful attacks have focused upon the centuries-old tobacco trade of the Seneca people.

Both the New York Senate and Assembly passed a bill that is designed to eliminate our sovereign and inherent right to sell tobacco products from our Territories. This bill will soon be presented to Gov. David Paterson for his signature. We are hopeful that Gov. Paterson will veto this illegal legislation. We call upon our friends in New York state to voice your displeasure with this misguided assault upon Seneca Indian sovereignty and we ask you to encourage Gov. Paterson to veto this bill.

The Seneca people have freely engaged in the tobacco trade for many centuries and did so long before the arrival of European colonists. The Seneca people were among the first of the indigenous peoples on this continent to domesticate wild tobacco. Tobacco has played an important role in our religious, spiritual and sacred ceremonies and in our social and political gatherings. Because tobacco and the trade of tobacco have long been an integral part of our Seneca culture and heritage, we view this recent effort by the New York legislature as a direct, discriminatory attack on the Seneca people.

We want our friends and customers in New York to know that our tobacco trade will continue to flourish even if Gov. Paterson signs this illegal bill. We want our message to be clear - this bill will have no affect whatsoever on our inherent right or ability to sell tobacco products from our territorial Homelands free from interference by foreign governments, including the government of New York state. We wish to remind all New York politicians that their tax laws are not our laws and that their laws cannot be extended to our territories. If Gov. Paterson signs this bill into law, his act and the bill itself will violate both Seneca and international law.

The New York politicians responsible for fabricating this bill are trying to create the impression that Seneca Indian businesses owe New York state millions of dollars in tax and that the collection of this tax will help alleviate New York's budget deficit. Make no mistake about this; because New York has no legal authority over the Seneca Nation, Seneca Indian businesses owe no tobacco-related taxes to New York state.

Lastly, we encourage our friends and customers to contact Gov. Paterson at (518) 474-8390 and to remain loyal to Seneca lndian business owners and to support their future efforts to protect the sovereignty of the Seneca people.

The Board of Directors of the Seneca Free Trade Association

Seneca Nation of Indians, Allegany Territory