Yakama tribe sues feds over reservation raid

Yakima, Washington (AP) March 2011

The Yakama Nation has sued the federal government over an FBI raid at a tribal cigarette manufacturing facility on the reservation, claiming it violates their 1855 treaty.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the federal government to notify the tribe before entering the reservation, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported last week. It also seeks unspecified compensation for punitive damages.

The lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and several unidentified FBI agents.

An FBI spokesman in Spokane declined to comment on pending litigation.

FBI agents swarmed King Mountain Tobacco on Feb. 16, seizing company records and computer equipment. The cigarette company is owned and operated by tribal member Delbert Wheeler Sr. and sits on tribal land southwest of White Swan.

According to the lawsuit, the federal government violated the tribe’s treaty rights by conducting the raid without first contacting tribal leaders. An FBI agent sent a text message to the tribe’s commissioner of public safety, but it was after the raid had begun, and a search warrant issued in connection with the raid didn’t explain the FBI’s actions.

Under the 1855 treaty, the Yakamas reserved their exclusive use of the reservation and authority over its land and people.

The raid came a day after King Mountain sued the state of Washington and Attorney General Rob McKenna, alleging the state is illegally collecting a penalty stemming from the 46-state Big Tobacco settlement in 1998. The lawsuit says the tribe’s treaty guarantees it can get goods to market “free of any fees, tolls or other impediments.”

It’s not the first time a cigarette-related raid has occurred on the 1,875-square-mile reservation. For years, tribal smoke shops have had records and inventory confiscated over tax issues.

Tribal members are not subject to state retail or cigarette taxes on the reservation, but state authorities remain poised to enforce cigarette taxes on non-Indians who buy from tribal stores and smoke shops.