Warrants issued for KBIC members selling tobacco

HOUGHTON — Warrants were issued for two Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members for transporting tobacco to the reservation as part of their jobs last year, according to a press release the tribe issued Tuesday. KBIC declined to name the individuals involved in the matter. “KBIC takes its duty to provide for the welfare of its members seriously,” KBIC President Chris Swartz said in the release. “KBIC and its leaders will do what they can to protect its sovereignty and its people. Michigan has now resorted to threatening incarceration against employees and members of the KBIC for KBIC’s exercise of its sovereignty. “It is due to this and other reasons that for now, KBIC will be selling tobacco which bears a Michigan tax stamp.” In the interim, cheap cigarettes will not be available once the current stock is sold out. The Pines Convenience store, the Rez Stop, the Ojibwa Casino in Baraga and the Ojibwa II in Marquette will sell out the approximately $3.50 a pack Seneca brands and offer only name-brand cigarettes until it can make its own cigarettes, something the tribal council has been working toward for months. “It should be known that KBIC is not giving up — in fact they are fighting back with full force,” Swartz said. “KBIC has begun to prepare to manufacture and sell its own cigarettes in Indian Country, on the L’Anse Indian Reservation and on KBIC’s trust lands. The revenues raised by these sales will be used to provide benefits to KBIC members. “KBIC will not be coerced into paying state taxes by Michigan’s strong-armed prosecution of KBIC’s members.” KBIC said on Oct. 20, the Michigan attorney general told them warrants were issued for the tribal members. “The warrants are based on Michigan State Police’s wrongful seizure of tobacco products on Dec. 11, (2015),” Swartz said. “The seized products included tobacco products, a pickup truck and trailer, all owned by the KBIC. “KBIC has taken action to protect its sovereignty and its members by filing a civil complaint in the federal court in the Western District regarding these seizures and Michigan’s application of sales and use tax on KBIC and its members. The two men were KBIC employees at the time of the seizure and were transporting cigarettes which were manufactured in Indian Country, were intended to be sold in Indian Country, and were illegally seized on the ceded home territory of the KBIC.”