Elder Albert Taylor of Sioux Valley First Nation, Canupawakpa Dakota Nation Chief Frank Brown along with Chief Orville Smoke and Coun. Craig Blacksmith of Dakota Plains First Nation take part in the opening of the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop on Highway 2 east of Pipestone in November.
Rather than force a confrontation with defiant Dakota First Nations, the RCMP has reached out to the chiefs of Canupawakpa and Dakota Plains to find a compromise solution to the Chundee Smoke Shop near Pipestone, the Sun has learned.
Earlier this month, RCMP representatives from the organization’s aboriginal policing unit, the Integrated Border Enforcement Team and Manitoba West District officers met with Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke and Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown.
"We were there on our own accord," RCMP spokesperson Line Karpish confirmed in a recent interview. "The fact is, we are the police of jurisdiction. We did meet with the Dakota chiefs ... over non-compliance of a court injunction.
"Our meeting with them was basically trying to dialogue and discussions to resolve the matter through peaceful median, if you would, to urge compliance ... In policing it’s always preferable to resolve things through dialogue and through peaceful mediation."
Karpish was unaware of any other scheduled meetings between the RCMP and Dakota.
The province won a temporary injunction against the Dakota in May to force the Dakota to shut down the smoke shop, which sells cut-rate Mohawk cigarettes in defiance of provincial tobacco tax laws. The province intends to seek a permanent injunction in a separate court case.
Law enforcement officials from the Manitoba Finance Department, with the aid of RCMP, have conducted five raids at the Chundee shop since it opened last fall, seizing thousands of cigarettes.
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.
When reached by the Sun, Smoke said the RCMP had asked the chiefs what it would take for them to shut down smoke shop operations.
"The RCMP are saying, what is it we can take to the province so you can open conversations," Smoke said. "They’re trying to build a bridge I guess. They’re saying that if we don’t work something out, that they have no choice but to (enforce the injunction). I think I understand that we all have jobs to do."
While he didn’t want to speak on behalf of Canupawakpa, Smoke said that he, at least, was willing to work out some kind of compromise with the province. But it would require the government to stop ignoring the plight of the Dakota by helping them establish better living conditions and work together on economic development so the reserves can be self-sufficient.
Smoke says his 275-person reserve suffers from extraordinarily high unemployment — about 90 per cent of the population.
"The needs of my community and their health and welfare are at stake," he said. "And it’s not getting any better. If we’re given those opportunities to do what needs to be done to fend for ourselves, they’ll never have to worry about us again."
While Chief Brown is willing to speak with government officials if they wish to seek a compromise, he says the province would have to be honest about its jurisdiction over the Dakota and recognize Dakota rights in the region before he would consider closing the smoke shop.
"They have full jurisdictions over the Dakota? Then give us the document that states the Dakota agreed to be under provincial jurisdiction," Brown said. "That’s what I’m asking for. I have to get it. If they don’t have it they have to tell us that they don’t have it.
"A fair agreement is that, they have to recognize my rights and they have to recognize the law of the land, our law of the land. How are we going to co-exist with my laws and the provincial laws?"
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 25, 2012