A controversial new smoke shop has Sioux Valley Dakota Nation council members drawing a line in the sand.
Chief Vince Tacan said he and his council vehemently oppose the establishment of a smoke shop on the reserve that would sell what the province has deemed to be illegal cigarettes.
"It’s an illegal smoke shop and it’s something that isn’t supported by the chief and council," Tacan said.
The smoke shop will be owned by Craig Blacksmith of Dakota Plains First Nation. A temporary shop is already set up, according to Blacksmith, and a storefront should be coming in the next couple of weeks. Blacksmith was one of the major players in the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop and Gaming Centre that opened in November 2011 near Pipestone.
Since it opened, the Chundee smoke shop has been raided five times by the Special Investigations Unit of Manitoba Finance with the help of the RCMP. Police seized hundreds of thousands of cigarettes that they said were federally stamped under the Excise Act 2001, but were not marked or stamped for sale in Manitoba.
The shop was closed in November 2012 when Queen’s Bench Justice Brenda Keyser ruled the provincial government could take control of the property.
While the ownership group claimed to use the Chundee smoke shop as bait to lure the provincial and federal government into a court battle over Dakota peoples’ sovereignty in Canada, Tacan said the motives for the new shop are rapacious.
"This isn’t a Dakota Nation issue, this is about putting money in Craig Blacksmith’s pocket," Tacan said. "While we’re busy debating, he’s busy stuffing his pockets and going on to the next project. It’s really a way for people to put money in their pockets and not follow any type of rules."
Tacan said the band council supports and encourages the RCMP to do what they have to do to ensure that the shop doesn’t get a foothold in Sioux Valley.
"We hope the RCMP do whatever they need to do to prevent the continuation of illegal activity in our community," Tacan said.
He isn’t sure why, if Blacksmith wants to establish a shop, he doesn’t do it on his own reserve — Dakota Plains First Nation. He’s also worried that the shop, which circumvents the province’s ability to tax cigarettes, will affect agreements in place with the government. Agreements that provide revenue in the form of rebates on items such as cigarettes and fuel that are used by the band to provide medicine that might not be included in the reserve’s health agreement.
"We rely on those rebates to pay for things that might not otherwise be funded," Tacan said.
It also undermines the council’s push on the federal government for self governance and self determination.
"This whole operation impacts our agreements," Tacan said. "With self-governance, we’ll be able to pass laws to regulate this type of thing and get on our way to economic development and creating jobs."
Blacksmith argues that those very agreements are holding the Dakota people back, stifling economic growth and prosperity.
"The chief and council are indian agents for the government," Blacksmith said. "Self-government is sovereignty, and if you’re sovereign you don’t have to ask anyone for permission. We don’t need to ask the government to start taking care of our people.
"The province doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Dakotas and the chief and council are just extentions of (the Indian Act) so they have tow the party line."
As for the much-needed rebates, Blacksmith believes that money should go directly back to the individual rather than the band. He said his group will split profits with the community to provide infrastructure where it is needed.
"It’s a 50/50 split," Blacksmith said. "That’s the way the Dakotas have always been. It’s about doing something for the community."
This venture, he insists, is different from the Chundee smoke shop. The Sioux Valley shop will be a convenience store offering basic items while, at the same time, sell cut-rate cigarettes.
Blacksmith estimates the shop will provide five jobs and while he might not have the approval of Chief Tacan and his council, he said he has the blessing of the Tiospaye — which translates to "extended family" and is an informal group of leaders from each family in the community.
"We’re trying to take care of ourselves and that’s all this is — economic development. Who knows what happens to that money that goes back to the band. We’re going to give our share to the Tiospaye."
Elder Albert Taylor of Sioux Valley is his family’s representative with the Tiospaye and he supports the new smoke shop in Sioux Valley, but Taylor’s support should come as no surprise as he supported the Chundee smoke shop from the beginning.
"The people are going to benefit from it," Taylor said.
DAKOTA CHUNDEE SHOP TIMELINE
• Nov. 8, 2011 — A smoke shop and gaming centre will open the following day near Pipestone, states a press release sent to the Brandon Sun.
The store, called the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop and Gaming Centre, sells cut-rate cigarettes, offers video gambling and is operated by the Great Buffalo Nation Dakota.
The release states that the Dakota people have never ceded sovereignty to Canadian authorities.
• Nov. 10, 2011 — Free Rainbow Tobacco cigarettes are handed out at the shop as about 80 people wait in line to buy cut-rate cigarettes that are marketed as chemical-free and all natural.
The shop is opened by Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke, Dakota Plains’ Craig Blacksmith, Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown as a way, according to its owners, to demonstrate Dakota sovereignty in Canada.
•Nov. 13, 2011 — The province states that the Dakota must follow all provincial laws when it comes to tobacco sales and gaming.
Brown, who signed a diversion agreement with the province in 2010 promising that the Canupawakpa reserve would abide by Manitoba laws, welcomes government intervention. He insists the Dakota are considered a non-treaty people and as such have the right to do as they please on their own land.
•Nov. 15, 2011 — Police and the province shut down the smoke shop.
Nearly 90,000 cigarettes are seized by the Special Investigations Unit of Manitoba Finance.
According to a provincial press release, the cigarettes seized were federally stamped under the Excise Act 2001 but were not marked or stamped for sale in Manitoba.
While officials seized all cigarettes in the store, Craig Blacksmith promises to be back open the next day using a supply of tobacco hidden away.
•Nov. 16, 2011 — The Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop is back selling cigarettes, one day after three men were charged under the province’s Tobacco Tax Act.
• Nov. 28, 2011 — The smoke shop is raided again. About 30 cartons of Mohawk cigarettes are seized.
Within one hour of the raid, the smoke shop had replaced the cigarettes and was back open for business.
"As soon as they left, were going to be open again I told them," Charles Blacksmith said.
• Nov. 29, 2011 — The province reports it has seized about 10,800 cigarettes. As none of the cigarette cartons had Manitoba tax markings or stamps, the province says they are not legal to sell or possess in Manitoba.
• Dec. 14, 2011 — The smoke shop announces they will become a drive-thru operation.
The drive-thru will force provincial officials to get a search warrant to come in the building, according to Brown.
• Dec. 15, 2011 — Group spokesman Craig Blacksmith says the smoke shop has set its sight on opening other ventures in cities like Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg.
Whether the stores open depends on the outcome of an upcoming meeting between three Dakota First Nations and the federal government, Blacksmith said.
• Dec. 20, 2011 — The smoke shop is raided again.
About 156 cartons are seized — 55 from the store and another 101 from a vehicle — and more charges are laid.
"They’re just stacking the charges on top," Blacksmith said. "During the second (raid), it was whatever charge times two. Now, it’s whatever charge times three."
Five people now face a total of 28 charges.
• Jan. 2, 2012 — Great Buffalo Nation Dakota leaders appeal to the British Crown for recognition of sovereignty rights.
•Feb. 23, 2012 — Profits from a controversial First Nation smoke shop have been used to buy a fire truck for the Dakota Plains First Nation.
"We could get raided every day, pretty much and we’d still have a supply," Blacksmith said.
•March 6, 2012 — Charles Blacksmith, the manager of the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop near Pipestone is arrested during a raid.
At least 10,000 cigarettes are confiscated.
• March 7, 2012 — Manitoba Finance and RCMP conduct another raid, just one day after it raided the shop.
Garth Blacksmith is arrested and more contraband cigarettes are taken.
• March 22, 2012 — The province heads to court to try to put a stop to what it describes as the sale of contraband cigarettes at the smoke shop.
The Attorney General of Manitoba will seek both a long-term and short-term injunction in a bid "for the preservation of the integrity of the rule of law in the province of Manitoba."
• May 31, 2012 — The Dakota will ignore a temporary injunction to shut down a smoke shop that sells cigarettes in defiance of provincial tobacco tax laws, Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown said.
Brown rode to the Law Courts on horseback with other Dakota chiefs to protest the province’s right to impose tobacco tax laws on the smoke shop.
• June 5, 2012 — The group accused of violating provincial laws will fight the charges in court.
"It’s a jurisdictional issue but also a rights issue and a sovereignty issue," Brown said following an appearance in Brandon court.
• June 25, 2012 — The RCMP reaches out to the smoke shop owners to try to find a compromise.
"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.
• July 5, 2012 — A Dakota protest walk wound up with a rally at the Brandon courthouse, where owners of the shop face charges under the province’s tobacco laws appeared for a court appearance.
Chundee has ignored a court injunction that ordered it closed at the end of May.
• Aug. 15, 2012 — The provincial government is ready to admit that the Dakota First Nations people existed in what is now Manitoba before Canada became a country, according to an email written by a provincial Crown attorney.
• Oct. 18, 2012 — Manitoba’s attorney general asks the Court of Queen’s Bench to shut down a controversial smoke shop in southwest Manitoba — once and for all — and level fines against the individuals responsible for its operation.
In a motion, Attorney General Andrew Swan will call on the court to find Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown and Dakota Plains Chief Orville Smoke in contempt of court and ask authorities to take possession of the controversial smoke shop.
• Oct. 19, 2012 — At least seven horsemen from various First Nations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan saddled up for a protest ride against a motion to levy fines against smoke shop employees and owners.
• Nov. 5, 2012 — Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown appeared in Winnipeg court and was hit with a $10,000 fine after being found in contempt of court for continuing to operate Chundee Smoke Shop.
Queen’s Bench Justice Brenda Keyser also fined Garth Blacksmith $1,500 for operating a business contrary to an injunction.
"I’m not going to pay it. They can throw me in jail," a defiant Brown said outside court.
As a result, Keyser ruled the provincial government would now take control of the property.
Nearly 30 Dakota members camp out at the smoke shop in opposition of the province’s takeover of the shop.
• Nov. 30, 2012 — Nearly four weeks after a Manitoba court judge ruled that the provincial government had the authority to seize control of the controversial Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop, the building remains under the control of Brown, but the business has been closed since the ruling — by Brown himself.
• Feb. 14, 2013 — Craig Blacksmith says he has plans to open a convenience store in Sioux Valley that will sell Mohawk cigarettes.
Sioux Vally Dakota Nation Chief Vince Tacan opposes the establishment.
» Brandon Sun