Mohawk cigarette maker urges Sask. bands to pass own tobacco laws

WHITECAP DAKOTA FIRST NATION, Sask. — An executive with an aboriginal tobacco company at the centre of recent seizures of millions of untaxed cigarette in Western Canada urged First Nations in Saskatchewan on Thursday to create their own laws to sell tobacco without provincial interference.

“It’s an issue of native sovereignty and the power we have over our own economic development,” said Robbie Dickson, CEO of the Rainbow Tobacco Company, a Mohawk enterprise based on the Kahnawake reserve in Quebec. He made the comments to delegates of the federation’s winter assembly during a luncheon sponsored by the company.

Advertisements for cigarettes are shown on the Kahnawake native reserve outside Montreal.

Advertisements for cigarettes are shown on the Kahnawake native reserve outside Montreal.

“Create your own tobacco act and then your tobacco act takes precedent over provincial jurisdiction,” Dickson said. “We introduced the white man to tobacco 550 years ago and it’s time to take this sacred substance back and start benefiting from it again,” Dickson said.

The Saskatchewan government recently seized 100 cigarette cartons shipped from Rainbow Tobacco. The province said they were illegally imported into Saskatchewan because the provincial sales tax had not been paid.

“The provincial government’s attempt to assert their jurisdiction over First Nations is unconstitutional,” said FSIN vice-chief Morley Watson in a statement, adding that the province is imposing “economic sanctions” on First Nations.

Authorities in B.C. also recently seized cigarettes shipped from Rainbow Tobacco. And about 14 million were seized on the Montana First Nation in Alberta on Jan. 5.

Dickson argued provinces have no right to tax his company’s products because cigarettes are made on a reserve and sold to reserves, which fall under federal jurisdiction. The company has been federally licensed since 2004, and the licence was last renewed six days after the seizure in Alberta, Dickson said.

Rainbow Tobacco is aiming to move into Western Canada after finding success in Ontario and Quebec. Dickson said the company has been an economic driver for the reserve, where 30 people are employed by the cigarette manufacturer.

“It’s one of the reasons why the unemployment rate has steadily decreased for the last five to 10 year,” he said, adding that Saskatchewan communities could see similar benefits — such as jobs related to a distribution network — if Rainbow Tobacco moved into Western Canada.

Rainbow Tobacco ships about 200,000 cartons of cigarettes every week and is responsible for 25 per cent of cigarette sales in Ontario, Dickson said.

Tobacco acts would eliminate cigarette sale quotas on reserves and allow band councils to set guidelines about what can be sold and how the money from sales is distributed, Dickson said.


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