- Category: news
- Created: Wednesday, 18 September 2013 12:54
- Published: Wednesday, 18 September 2013 12:54
- Written by Administrator 3
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The fight over a controversial First Nations smoke shop that sells cheap, untaxed cigarettes, is in a Brandon courtroom today.
The Dakota Chundee shop, located on off-reserve land near Pipestone, Manitoba, has been offering the cigarettes without a licence since 2011.
The shop, which is operated by eight First Nations, opened in 2011 and has been raided several times by police and ordered closed.
Five people are on trial for charges of selling the unlicensed tobacco, including former Canupawakpa chief Franklin Brown. There was some confusion in the courtroom this morning over how many people were on trial.
Craig Blacksmith, one of the other people charged under the tobacco tax act, said he isn't beholden to provincial law and has a right to sell Mohawk tobacco from Quebec for half the price of a legal carton in Manitoba.
The First Nation doesn't have official treaty status with Canada so the government has no jurisdiction, he said.
"The onus is on the province to prove its jurisdiction first," he said. "We've been waiting for that for two years, and we haven't been able to produce any kind of documentation that they have jurisdiction over us."
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), said aboriginal people have been trading tobacco with each other for thousands of years.
"We've been trading tobacco long long before there was any notion or any idea of provincial regulation in place, so it's a national dialogue," he told reporters.
"Alberta is watching what we are doing, Saskatchewan is watching what we are doing and we think the fight starts here."
The federal government is under-funding First Nations and they have a right to support themselves through free trade, he added.
If Dakota Chundee wins its case, it will be a huge victory for First Nations, who want to operate under their own laws, Blacksmith said.
"It's gonna be huge for our people," he said. "I mean this is probably the biggest event, as far as political-wise, dealing with native people, for the Canadian government."
Nepinak, as well as several members of the Dakota community, rode horses in the street outside the Brandon court house to show support, while drummers and singers played along.
"Dakota people are a sovereign nation and are in a court battle with the provincial and federal governments to protect their indigenous sovereign rights to trade tobacco," states a press release from the AMC.
"This is about economic apartheid built into provincial and federal policy and law against sovereign indigenous peoples."