IRVING - Seneca Nation officials want state leaders to know that if an embargo of products to reservation stores results from state tax collection attempts, Senecas are ready to protect themselves.
The nation's Tribal Council recently approved spending as much as $1 million to retain ''emergency response personnel'' to assist with medical care to nation residents, make sure children can get to school and ensure Senecas can go about daily activities without interference.
Nation officials are also encouraging to Senecas to stockpile basic needs - Seneca veterans will receive civil defense, first-aid and crowd control, along with disaster preparedness training. They will be unarmed, not in uniform, and nation government branches will prepare security, disaster and public safety plans along with being liaisons to surrounding municipalities to minimize disruptions to local residents.
Nation officials are also planning a system for the nation to collect tolls on the New York State Thruway in Irving. The state was served with papers Tuesday regarding a Seneca Peacemakers Court action seeking an advisory opinion regarding the nation's ownership to improvement of their land known as the Thruway and whether the president can reclaim that land. State officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The actions come on the heels of a Dec. 15 signing of a bill into law that could result in state tax collection attempts on cigarettes sold to non-Indians on reservations. According to the law, which has been legally challenged, wholesalers distributing to reservation businesses would have to certify they have distributed tax-free product for Senecas only.
During a Tuesday news conference to discuss nation actions in light of the law, that would take effect Feb. 13, Seneca President Barry Snyder said the nation's actions are ''designed to protect the Seneca people from state incursions into their lives, while elevating the nation's response level to New York state's threatening decisions.''
''The council (Seneca governing body) believes the state is once again intending to take action to impose an embargo on tobacco products, which poses a grave threat to recent progress the nation made to recover from the historic economic limitations inflicted on the Seneca people by the state and federal governments,'' he said.
''This justifies taking any and all prudent actions to protect and defend the nation's economy and way of life of the Seneca people,'' said Snyder. He said the state has twice before (in July 1982 and May 1997) tried to ''impose an embargo'' on the importation of tobacco products to the nation. This, Snyder said, led to ''widespread defensive resistance'' by the Seneca people, conflict with the state police and ''significant disruption to nation civil society and the surrounding non-Native Communities.''
This time, he said, the nation will be ready.
In light of those attempts, Snyder said he will also ask President-elect Barack Obama next week to provide federal troops in the face of the state's actions.
''Treaties guarantee peaceful enjoyment of lands,'' said Seneca Richard Nephew. Despite that, he said, Senecas are not living in peace, but, rather bothered by state tax collection attempts. He said the nation measures are being taken ''to reassure our people.''
''We won't sit idly,'' said Snyder about what will occur if New York goes down a path he said it always does when the state needs money.
''We do not seek conflict,'' he said, adding, however, the nation will protect the Seneca people and their way of life without being under a cloud from the state.
According to gubernatorial spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein, Gov. David Paterson is committed to working with the nation and hopes to establish a new relationship between the nation and New York state.
''As Gov. Paterson made clear in his State of the State address last week, he looks forward to working with the tribal nations across this state to forge a fundamentally different government-to-government relationship,'' she said. ''The tax collection issue is one of several issues that the governor would like to address as he moves forward to negotiate with all of the Indian nations in good faith.''