IAN HITCHEN/BRANDON SUN
Carl Mazawasicuna (left) and Gus Higheagle arrive at the Brandon courthouse as part of a protest on Monday in support of a number of people charged in connection with the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop near Pipestone.
Canupawakpa Dakota Nation Chief Franklin Brown says he and others charged in connection with the sale of cigarettes at the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop will fight their charges at trial.
The group is accused of violating provincial tobacco tax laws but argue that the Dakota never agreed to be under provincial jurisdiction.
"It’s a jurisdictional issue but also a rights issue and a sovereignty issue," Brown said following an appearance in Brandon court on Monday morning.
The Dakota also argue that they have the right to determine what to do with resources, including tobacco, which aboriginals used before Europeans arrived in the area.
"We didn’t give up our rights to tobacco," Brown said.
Brown and other accused face charges that relate to the sale of cigarettes at the smoke shop near Pipestone.
The Canupawakpa and the Dakota Plains First Nations have seen five RCMP raids of the Mohawk cigarettes they sell at the shop since it opened last fall.
Dakota leaders, however, say the shop is a means to an end. The Dakota didn’t sign a treaty with Canada, but Brown said they’re not seeking one — they want to assert their own sovereignty and rights.
The court docket shows that Brown and seven co-accused face numerous tobacco-related charges under the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act.
Those charges include the possession and sale, or offer for sale, of unmarked tobacco.
Brown and Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke also face charges relating to the possession or sale of tobacco without a licence.
In court on Monday, the accused were part of a closed-door pre-trial or case management conference.
Such conferences are typically held to narrow legal issues and determine the time needed for a trial. It’s standard for them to be closed to the public.
Michael Conner and Sean Brennan appeared for the Crown, but the accused have yet to secure lawyers and no trial date has been set. The case was adjourned to July 5 in Brandon.
As the accused appeared before the judge inside the courthouse, supporters rallied outside.
Half a dozen riders, adorned in traditional aboriginal dress, arrived at the courthouse on horseback followed by about half a dozen picketers.
The picketers carried signs marked with messages such as: "We are not Indian. We are Dakota" and "Canada is a bully!"
Albert Taylor was among the supporters and said that, for him, the issue isn’t about tobacco but land.
"The Dakota people have never signed a treaty… This land is ours, we never signed it away to Canada," Taylor said.
Meanwhile, Brown said, the smoke shop will continue to run despite a temporary court-ordered injunction obtained by the province.
The injunction will prevent Dakota people from selling unlicensed cigarettes and will take effect on Wednesday, once the province supplies paperwork requested by the court.
Brown argues that the injunction is illegal without proof to show that the Dakota fall under provincial jurisdiction.
He said the shop will continue to operate until there's proof the Dakota have agreed to be under provincial jurisdiction.
The province, on the other hand, intends to see a permanent injunction in separate court case.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 5, 2012