A hearing was held Tuesday in Federal Court in Brooklyn on a lawsuit filed by Gristedes
Corporation, a New York City food store chain aginst the Shinnecock and Unkechaug Indian
tribes, their officials and owners of smokeshops on the two Long Island Indian reservations.
The Gristedes complaint says the defendants violated federal racketeering law by selling
tax free tobacco, contributing to a black market on the streets of New York City and helping
fund terrorism and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
The suit also says the defendents cannot claim sovereign immunity in this case since they are
not on the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs list of recognized tribes.
Judge Carol Amon presided at the hearing which was attended by more than fifty Native
Americans and their supporters.
The judge questioned attorneys regarding the basis for tribal sovereign immunity and the lack
of evidence for Gristedes' complaints regarding criminal activity. She asked how Gristedes
could base a complaint solely on newspaper articles.
The defendants' attorney cited the 2005 decision by Federal Judge Thomas Platt that the
Shinnecock are an Indian Tribe and New York State's history of recognition of both the
Shinnecock and the Unkechaug nations.
The Long Island Native American Business Alliance staged a rally and press conference
following the hearing on the street outside the court house.
Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace says the basis of their sovereign right to conduct commerce
under the law goes back to colonial era treaties. He cited the 1669 Treaty of Fort Albany
in which the British colonists of New York recognized the rights of the native peoples to
conduct commerce in their territories.
Lance Gumbs,Chairman of the Shinnecock Tribal Trustees says that the BIA list is solely for
the purpose of allowing tribes to participate in federal programs.
Gumbs said"you have a tribe that predates the United States, predates New York State,Chief Harry Wallace says that the tobacco shops provide needed training and employment
goes all the way back to the colonial period, you step up to the plate and say
they're not a tribe because they're not on the federal government's list? "
for people on the reservations."Before we had these businesses we had a 80% unemployment rate. They were not
unemployed, they were un-employable. We trained people, we educated people,
we provided people with health insurance that did not exist, we provided
people with pensions. No Federal or state program did that, we did that."
Wallace says the legal cost of fighting this suit is high but as far as losing it would be" back to where they want us to be - unemployed and un-employable -
and I refuse to go back there".
Judge Amon reserved her decision which could be issued any time within the next 90 days.
WPKN's East End of Long Island News Team filed this report for WPKN Local News
heard Monday-Friday at 6:30 pm on
WPKN 89.5 Bridgeport CT and WPKM 88.7 Montauk NY
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