They showed up at the Winnipeg courthouse on horseback vowing to fight — only to be trampled by an unusual court ruling which rips away a major source of revenue.
But proponents of a controversial Manitoba smoke shop say the battle is far from over, even though the provincial government suddenly has ownership of their prized possession.
Queen’s Bench Justice Brenda Keyser lowered the boom Monday, finding two members of a First Nations community in contempt of court for continuing to operate the Chundee Smoke Shop near Pipestone, about 100 kilometres southwest of Brandon.
Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown was fined $10,000, while band member Garth Blacksmith was given a $1,500 penalty. Keyser endorsed a motion that Manitoba’s Attorney General Andrew Swan filed last month which stated that Brown and Blacksmith were operating the business contrary to an injunction she ordered on May 30.
As a result, Keyser ruled the provincial government would now take control of the property.
"I’m not going to pay it. They can throw me in jail," a defiant Brown said outside court.
He walked out of court before Keyser made her ruling and vowed to hire an "international lawyer" and step up the fight, suggesting he may now seek an injunction of his own against the government.
"I will proceed as a sovereign nation. This is a rights issue," he said.
Brown, along with several other members of the Dakota, made a grand entrance Monday by arriving at the downtown Winnipeg Law Courts on horseback.
A third accused, Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke, was spared any sanctions after announcing he no longer wants to be associated with the business.
He pledged to remove himself from the title and distanced himself from Brown’s position.
"I’m not radical by any means. At this point in time I’m basically on my own here," Smoke told court.
He suggested his initial involvement was done to bring attention to the plight of his people, who are suffering greatly and in dire need of financial assistance.
"My people are dying," Smoke said.
"I just can’t seem to make that one grasp of economic development to support my people."
Swan called Keyser’s decision "rather unique," but would not comment on what the province will now do with the building.
"We haven’t made any sound decisions on what the use will be," Swan said Monday afternoon.
"For right now, the main thing is that we’ll take steps to make sure the smoke shop is permanently closed. Our priority is just making sure there is compliance with the court order and the judge’s further decision today will make that easier."
Meanwhile, on Monday evening, nearly 30 Dakota First Nation members, including Brown, began gathering at the smoke shop property.
According to Chundee store manager Charles Blacksmith, the group will be camping out at the shop in opposition to the province’s expected takeover of the property, and in defiance of the court order.
"I don’t know if you’d call them protesters, but they’re camping out, close to 30 people," Blacksmith told the Brandon Sun late Monday.
"It’s something we own and they’re trying to take it away from us. Just like back in the day when they were giving away land to homesteaders, they would take our land without even asking.
"That’s exactly what’s going on right now."
Blacksmith said tents and teepees would be going up this morning.
He also said he has been told RCMP have been asked by the provincial government to assist in removing the Dakota from the building.
When asked if he was concerned about a possible confrontation, Blacksmith said he was sure it would be peaceful.
"I don’t think they’re going to come in there, guns blazing like the old days," he said.
"I think it will be peaceful. They’ll have to forcefully move them out of the building I would imagine, the women and children in there and some elders."
Since opening last November, enforcement officers with Manitoba Finance and members of the RCMP have conducted five raids at the Chundee shop and confiscated thousands of cut-rate Mohawk cigarettes.
Following each raid, the business has restocked its shelves and reopened.
The store is selling federally licensed Mohawk cigarettes without a provincial licence and it does not remit taxes to the province.
The Chundee store was created as an attempt to exercise Dakota sovereignty in Canada.
The Dakota have a history that predates Confederation in Western Canada but no treaty that recognizes them in this country.
» Winnipeg Free Press/Brandon Sun