Tribe suing WA gov over cigarette sales deal

By Curt Woodward
Olympia, Washington (AP) 2-08

The Nisqually Tribe has sued Gov. Chris Gregoire in federal court, claiming she struck an illegal deal that allows another tribe to sell cigarettes in what should be Nisqually territory.

The dispute centers around a small community outside the Nisqually reservation called Frank’s Landing, which has federal recognition as a “self-governing” American Indian community.

A smoke shop there was operated for years without a state tobacco tax agreement, eventually leading to a federal investigation and a May raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

After that, Frank’s Landing struck a deal with the Squaxin Island Tribe, which agreed to lease the smoke shop from the Frank’s Landing council and share the tax proceeds for use on local projects.

The deal was formalized late January when Gregoire signed an amendment to the state’s tobacco tax contract with the Squaxin Island Tribe. Those agreements, called compacts, typically allow tribal smoke shops to levy a tax on tobacco purchases by non-Indians, with the money staying in tribal hands.

But Nisqually leaders say the agreement infringes on the Nisqually tobacco sales contract, which they say gives their tribe control of cigarette sales in Frank’s Landing.

The lawsuit, filed early Febuary in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, seeks to end the agreement between Frank’s Landing and the Squaxin Island Tribe, and halt all tobacco sales at the Frank’s Landing smoke shop.

At a small rally and news conference on the Capitol steps in Olympia, Nisqually Chairwoman Cynthia Iyall accused Gregoire of putting together an illegal deal without properly notifying the Nisqually tribe. She also said the new contract violates the tribe’s sovereign rights.

“Up until now, we have had a great working relationship with the state,” Iyall said. “We sincerely hope that the governor will see that she has made a terrible mistake and work quickly to correct it.”

A Nisqually spokesman also suggested the deal was pushed along by Billy Frank Jr., a member of the governing council at Frank’s Landing, which is named for his family.

Frank, a Nisqually member and prominent environmental activist, is currently serving as co-chairman of Gregoire’s Puget Sound cleanup task force, one of the first-term Democrat’s major initiatives.

But the Gregoire administration, Squaxin Island officials and a Frank’s Landing representative all denied the Nisqually Tribe’s claims .

Keith Harper, an attorney for the Frank’s Landing council, said the special recognition granted to Frank’s landing by Congress in 1994 makes the case simple: federal law supersedes any tobacco sales contract the state has with the Nisqually Tribe.

“Somehow, the Nisqually Tribe is asserting that they have sole authority over the Frank’s Landing Indian community,” Harper said. “The language could not be more clear – it is not subject to the jurisdiction of any federally recognized tribe.”

Furthermore, Billy Frank Jr. was not pulling any strings with the Gregoire administration to make the deal, officials from the state, Squaxin Island and Frank’s Landing said.

Squaxin Island negotiated a lease and tax-sharing agreement with Frank’s Landing, and went to the state for separate negotiations over amending the Squaxin Island tobacco sales contract, officials said.

“Billy Frank Jr. notwithstanding, this would go forward either way,” Harper said. “I think there is an attempt to sort of personalize it with Billy, because he’s an iconic figure.”