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Seneca Nation Leaders, Members Testify at Cigarette Tax Collection Hearing in Manhattan

Seneca Representatives Urge State Lawmakers to Honor Indian Treaties and respect the growing Seneca Nation Economy that has Contributed more than $1.1 billion to the State Economy

NEW YORK,  -- J.C. Seneca, a tribal councilor and co-chairman of the Seneca Nation Foreign Relations Committee, and Robert Odawi Porter, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel, appeared today before the State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations. The hearing, held at Borough of Manhattan Community College, focused on the issue of whether New York State has the right to collect taxes on Native American tobacco sales within its borders.

Addressing the hearing panel, Councilor Seneca said the recurrent question of 'Why doesn't the State collect taxes on commerce taking place on Indian lands?' has a simple and definitive answer: It lacks authority to do so.

"For over 200 years, New York State has tried to steal our lands, assert jurisdiction over what lands we have left, and impose its taxes on us and our activities. In response, and in our defense, the United States promised to protect us from any effort by the State to impose its taxes in our territories," Councilor Seneca told the hearing panel.

"Your oaths of office require you to uphold American laws and treaties. Whether you do so or not is up to you, but I assure you that we have no intention of compromising any of our treaty right that have already been bought and paid for through the relinquishment of most of our aboriginal rights," Councilor Seneca said.

The Seneca leader detailed the Seneca Nation's effort to build its economy across its five Western New York sovereign territories, which has contributed over $1.1 billion to the state-wide economy in the past decade.

The Nation has grown to become the fifth largest employer in Western New York, providing jobs for some 6,300 persons through its government, gaming and hospitality, gasoline and tobacco retailing and emerging private sector ventures. Hundreds of those jobs are held by non-Senecas.

Councilor Seneca also told the panel the Nation's tobacco and motor fuel business segment, which generated an estimated $313 million for the Nation in 2007, contributed nearly $200 million in spin-off dollars to the State economy.

"Even though the Nation's tobacco trade is not subject to State taxation, the ripple effects of the Nation's trade spill into the state and regional economy as the Seneca government and citizens spend net tobacco profits in the off-territory economy," Councilor Seneca said.

According to a recent study by Harvard economist Jonathan Taylor, Seneca tobacco sales in 2005 generated $195 million in State Gross Domestic Product. The study concluded that for every $1 of gross profits accrued to the Nation's tobacco businesses, the state economy gained $1.67.

The Seneca leader also detailed the Nation's ground-breaking efforts to oversee and control sales and distribution of tobacco products. In addition to voluntary reviews from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Enforcement, the Nation has also implemented a sophisticated, anti-counterfeiting 'stamping' program.

The Nation has also established its own tobacco business enforcement commission which oversees compliance to a rigorous set of regulations which includes: retailer authorization, minimum pricing and a ban on sales to minors.

Councilor Seneca noted that four different New York governors, including Gov. David Paterson, have honored the Nation's treaty rights and respected its economic development efforts by supporting its immunity to taxation of its commerce.

"They have not all accepted this policy easily, but we are appreciative that Governors (Mario) Cuomo, (George) Pataki, (Elliot) Spitzer and (David) Paterson have chose to base our relationship on diplomacy and respect, rather than unilateralism and conflict," Councilor Seneca said. "We urge you to consider whether the State Legislature should, once and for all, recognize our federally-protected rights and work to establish a lasting peace."

More about The Seneca Nation of Indians

The Seneca Nation of Indians, one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, continues to occupy aboriginal lands in Western New York, including sovereign territories in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. The Senecas' long history includes passing on constitutional and governmental traditions used by founders of the United States like Benjamin Franklin. It traditionally controlled trade and protected the Western territories, earning the title "Keeper of the Western Door." The Nation's five sovereign territories are comprised of 31,095 acres along the Allegany River and the Southern Tier Expressway, known as the Allegany Territory; 22,011 acres along Cattaraugus Creek near Lake Erie known as the Cattaraugus Territory; one square mile in Cuba, called the Oil Spring Territory; approximately 30 acres in Niagara Falls, and approximately 9 acres in Buffalo. The Allegany Territory contains the City of Salamanca within its boundaries. Tens of thousands of acres of Seneca lands in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania were taken when the federal government built the Kinzua Dam and forcibly evicted Senecas from their land in the early 1960s. The Nation today operates a $1.1 billion economy that employs more than 6,300 people, native and not. It operates and manages a variety of retail, gaming and casino and hotel operations on its territories. The Nation operates a faithkeepers school, expanded sports programs for young people, improved health and wellness centers and plans to construct a treatment center for alcohol and drug addictions. The Nation recently expanded greatly its capital building and social services operations, with new projects including improvements to roads, sewers, water treatment plants, water-supply facilities and low-income and elderly housing. The Nation operates a "good-neighbor" policy under which it seeks to expand its relations with groups, governments, charities, private and public corporations that wish to interact collaboratively with the Nation. In 2007, the Nation spent more than $90 million with vendors, suppliers and businesses across Western New York. In addition to hundreds of union construction jobs created in the last five years, the Nation has paid New York State and local municipalities more than $350 million in shared gaming revenues.

    Media Contacts:
    Sharon Linstedt - 716-489-3068
    Carolyn Human - 716-713-3472
    Sue Asquith - 716-842-2222 ext. 324
    Travers Collins & Company


SOURCE Seneca Nation of Indians

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