Background to NY tax attempts on Haudenosaunee nations [The following document is posted on the Mohawk Nation's website. We are including it here as a backgrounder to the current situation at Seneca.]



Attea Case: 1994 Supreme Court level

Was lost in 1994, as a result of this decision, this enabled the New York State Taxation Department to implement a pre-collection tax scheme.

July 1995: Gallant Piper

Document leaked regarding allowance of the State of New York to persue the collection of taxes from tax free enterprises conducted on Indian reservations, located within the state. The State Police as well as the National Guard were to assist the Department of Taxation and Finance in this collection. As a result, the Iroquois Businessman's Association in November of 1995, meet to share information on this issue. During this period of time, pressure was being put on the nations to go into compacts with the state concerning casinos and bingos which would entail paying tax to the state.

December 1995

Tax Commissioner Michael Urbach announced that New York State would begin collecting sales tax on gasoline and cigarettes in February 1996. Tax officials would not have to enter reservations to collect the tax. Taxes would be levied on wholesalers who supply gas and cigarettes to Indian retailers. Years of litigation finally gave the state the right to tax sales to non-Indians who buy goods at reservation stores. The state court of Appeals, the aftermath of a decision by the United States Supreme Court approved the tax collections last year (1995). There has been no enforcement because Pataki aids were negotiating casino gambling and land claims with Indian nations in Central and Northern New York. It was felt that these negotiations could be soured if the state enforced the collection scheme.

February 12-16, 1996: Pataki meets with Native Leaders

In the days prior to making his announcement, Pataki met with leaders of individual nations and communities separately. He assured each delegation that they would be consulted in advance before any decisions were to be made.

February 19, 1996: Postpone Albany Meeting, Native Americans Request

A coalition of independent Native American businesses and representatives of various Indian Nations throughout New York State call upon Pataki to halt February 20, 1996 meeting at which regulations were to be announced.

February 20, 1996

Pataki issues ultimatum: Compromise and create a pact to collect state taxes on cigarettes and gasoline within 120 days or else Albany will start collecting the taxes. The proposal suggests that the Indian retailers must raise the price of gasoline and cigarettes up to parity with neighboring non-Indian retailers. Taxes are to be collected by the Indian and 80% would go to the state and 20% to the Indians. What this means is that either the state becomes part of your business or the state puts you out of business.

February 23 & 24 1996, Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Meeting - 1st Annual Native American Business League Symposium

Included in the statement adopted at this meeting: "The Iroquois Confederacy and the individual nations of the Confederacy and the Algonquin Nations have never relinquished our sovereignty. We have never consented to give any foreign nation the authority to tax our people."

March 2, 1996: Unkechaug, Long Island Meeting

First Nations Business League meet and discuss and agree that sovereignty is the issue. As sovereign nations, we have an economic right.

March 9, 1996: Syracuse, New York Meeting

First Nations Business League agree to a mission statement: "The mission of the First Nations Business League is to express the Sovereignty position of the original nations on this part of Mother Earth, and to promote, defend, and exercise our sovereign right to conduct trade and commerce."

March 11, 1996: Kahnawake

People of the Longhouse meet with two local entrepreneurs who have obtained a tobacco wholesaler permit from the province of Quebec. The validity of this permit rests on the collection of provincial sales tax from non-Indian customers to be remitted to Revenue Quebec. Because of this, it was revealed that there are many other entrepreneurs in Kahnawake who have similar permits and are obligated to turn over tax to the Quebec Government. It was decided that an information campaign would be implemented within the community to make people aware of the taxation issue and how it will affect us. As well, collectively, we will look for a remedy to solve this problem.

Based on The Sovereignty Position of the Kanienkehaka, June 15, 1988, passed by Chiefs and Council at Kahnawake, Mohawk Nation: "It is the position of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawks of Kahnawake) that trade that is carried on by Mohawk citizens within the territory of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk Nation) is legal, and is subject to the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy. Canada must seriously consider whether the interference it perpetuates through its seizure of merchandise and Mohawk Nationals, will cause a rupture that it cannot sustain."

April 22, 1996: Letter Sent to President Clinton from the People of The Kanienkehaka

A formal complaint is filed with the President of The United States to inform New York State that they do not have the authority to violate solemn treaties made with the United States and to immediately rescind their 120-day ultimatum.

May 8, 1996: Meeting With Office of Tribal Justice, Washington, D.C.

Various tribal leaders, and some who are also members of the First Nations Business League met with the Office of Tribal Justice in Washington. The meeting was conducted by mark Van Norman, Deputy Director of the Office of tribal Justice. At the meeting Mr. Van Norman repeatedly stated that he and his office would act only as 'facilitator' for this and any subsequent meetings concerning the New York tax issue. According to him and Office of Tribal Justice, they would not get in a position of telling New York to take any specific action. The tribal leaders, and others who spoke at the meeting, took the unified position that unless New York lifts the 120 day ultimatum there can be no dialogue with the New York State Government.

May 13, 1996: Pataki suspends 120 day ultimatum

Governor Pataki suspends the July 5 deadline for the collection of taxes. The original proposal set a 120-day window for Natives to negotiate a tax compact with the state. Pataki hoped to undercut the Albany 'T' Party rally by making this last minute concession but it had little effect.

May 14, 1996: Albany 'T' Party

Over two thousand Indians from the Six Nations and Algonquin Nations of Long Island gather in Albany, New York for a rally organized by the First Nations Business League. It was to protest New York's policy to tax non-natives purchasing goods on Indian reservations.

May 23, 1996: Meeting With US Department of Justice - Community Relations Service

The Community Relations Service took on the position as facilitator/mediator for the issue between the State of New York and the First Nations. The Indian Nations have begun a process with the Justice Department imposing itself as mediator and yet according to Article Seven of the Canadaiga Treaty the President must delegate someone to deal with the issue on his behalf. At this meeting, it was stated that as Indian Nations there is a government to government relationship and someone from the Federal Government (Clinton's Office) should be there.

June 21, 1996: Meeting at Fordham University

This situation was chosen as a neutral place to meet. To be discussed are groundrules and the necessity of a representative from Clinton's Office.

August 13, 1996: State Judge Orders Collection Of Taxes On Indian Land

State Supreme court Justice said the state must either work out an arrangement to collect taxes by 120 days or stop collecting taxes on these products throughtout the state. This order is a result of a lawsuit brought by convenience store operators who operate outside of Indian reservations.

August 26, 1996: Judith Hard Faxes Invitation To Meet

After Supreme Court decision, Judith Hard attempts to convene a meeting in Albany at the executive chambers to discuss decision and develop a schedule to negotiate tax compacts between New York State and each Nation. New York State violates the agreement of meeting in a neutral place. As well, the State limits numbers, one representative and one attorney. The judgement reinstates the 120 day deadline. No one attends meeting.

August 30-31, 1996: Cornell Conference

Conference was well attended by various factions within the Confederacy. There was a call for unity and dialogue. 'Economic Futures' was a positive attempt to look at the necessity for unification in order to survive. Taxation is a very real threat. Is was stated that as sovereign Haudenosaunee Nations we are non-taxable.

September 12, 1996: Pataki Appeals Decision

Spokesman Attorney General Dennis Vacco says that the state was obligated to appeal the ruling to protect its own tax system but would accept the 120 day deadline. The New York Assoc. of Convenience Stores express to Pataki "disappointment and dismay" that the state has appealed the ruling.

September 21, 1996: All Iroquois Women's Meeting at Onondaga

Discussion on the tax situation and further meetings will be scheduled to continue further on the subject as well as other issues relevant to the Confederacy.

September 27, 1997: Meeting with New York State in Syracuse

Due to the unanswered question by the State of another deadline being imposed, not much was accomplished except that all who attended agreed that the question must be answered in order to continue. No date was set for another meeting.

October 13, 1996: Break Down of Land Claims Negotiations

Collapse of talks ends 10 years of discussions about property the Mohawks say the state took illegally. Settlement of the issue was almost complete when the state interjected the tax issue. The state said that they would not respond to any further proposal made until the Mohawks promised to collect taxes. After an Oct. 3 conference among the parties, U.S. District Court Senator Judge Neal P. McCurn urged the state to proceed with the tax issues separately from the land settlement. The state refused to do so and broke off negotiations.

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