August 13, 2009

The fight to sell untaxed cigarettes on tribal land

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Read a provocative profile of Alison Gottfriedson in High Country News. Krista Kapralos writes of the Native American woman who died last month at age 57, arrested repeatedly in the 1960s and 1970s for fishing in areas off-limits to Indians before she and her family won a victory for Indians throughout the Northwest – the right to half of the fish harvest in their traditional fishing areas.

She died fighting another battle – the right to sell tax-free cigarettes at her smoke shop at Franks Landing, south of Seattle. Kapralos writes that the state of Washington has lost up to $223 million each year from the sale of untaxed cigarettes, with 60 percent of that loss due to Indian-owned smoke shops. A federal court ruled in 1980 that the state has the right to tax tobacco sold to non-Indians and members of other tribes on the Colville Indian reservation, and many tribes consider that decision a blow to tribal sovereignty. Gottfriedson and her husband Hank, members of the Squaxin Island Tribe, are estimated to have made more than $20 million between 2001 and 2007 selling the cigarettes at about half their normal price, Kapralos writes.

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