Harjo: The Indian tobacco wars in the Northwest

"Two important events occurred in mid-May in the Northwest Indian tobacco wars. First, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made its largest smokeshop raid in Washington since its record-breaking busts on Northwest reservations in 2003. Second, a federal appeals court upheld Yakama treaty rights and threw out indictments stemming from a 2004 raid at Yakama Nation.

On May 15, the ATF raided three Indian smokeshops and two homes in Washington, confiscating undisclosed quantities of cigarettes, money, records and computers.

The ATF raids, part of ''Operation Chainsmoker,'' targeted the Blue Stilly Smoke Shop on the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe's land; the Trading Post at Match Point on the Swinomish Indian Tribe's land; and the Frank's Landing Indian Trade on the Frank's Landing Indian Community's land.

On May 18, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a unanimous decision upholding a lower court ruling that indictments against a Yakama family in a smokeshop raid three years ago violated the Yakama Treaty of 1855.

Harry Smiskin and his son, Kato, both Yakama citizens, were indicted in June 2004 under the federal Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act because they didn't notify state officials that they were transporting a large amount of cigarettes lacking the state's tax stamp.

The Appeals Court decision reads: ''In light of our interpretation of the Right to Travel provision of the Yakama Treaty ... as well as the canons of construction for interpreting Indian treaties, we conclude that applying the State's pre-notification requirement to the Smiskins violates the right to travel guaranteed in Article III of the Treaty.''"

Get the Story:
Suzan Shown Harjo: Northwest Indian tobacco wars (Indian Country Today 5/25)

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