Indian tribe protests cigarette taxes

Sept. 16, 2010 at 5:45 PM
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TUSCARORA INDIAN NATION, N.Y., Sept. 16 (UPI) -- An American Indian tribe told motorists it may collect tolls from cars to protest a court decision giving New York the right to tax the tribe's cigarette sales.

"It's not just about taxes," a member of the Tuscarora tribe told The Buffalo (N.Y.) News. "This is about our freedom and our human rights. We're supposed to be a sovereign nation, and yet the state keeps trying to tax us."

Several dozen members of the Iroquoian-language-family tribe carrying signs and flags stopped passing cars on a two-lane state highway and handed fliers to the drivers informing them of the possible toll each time they crossed the reservation line.

"Coming Soon: Tuscarora Toll. $1 per vehicle. Located on Route 31 and Route 104," the fliers said.

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, lifted a temporary restraining order Tuesday that had blocked the state from enforcing new tax regulations that let New York collect cigarette taxes from non-Indian customers.

Indians living on the Tuscarora reservation would be exempt from the tax.

"Once they tax cigarettes, what will they want next?" asked Adrian Bigfoot, who said he held no office in the Tuscarora Indian Nation government, but said the government is a participatory democracy in which all Tuscaroras have a voice.

New York is "trying to break our treaties," he said.

The state Department of Taxation and Finance, responsible for collecting and enforcing state tax laws and dispersing tax revenues, had no immediate comment.

The court ruling does not apply to New York's Seneca and Cayuga nations, which remain exempt from the tax until at least Sept. 28 due to a separate restraining order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara, radio station WBEN-AM, Buffalo, reported.

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