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Tribal Feud Over Taxes Continues At Onondaga Reservation

June 8, 1994

NEDROW, N.Y. (AP) _ A store at the center of a long, bitter tax dispute with the Onondaga Indian Nation was gutted by a mysterious fire Wednesday and its owner was arrested in a scuffle with police.

Armed officers blocked key roads into the reservation just south of Syracuse after the Smoke Signals store went up in a blaze authorities deemed suspicious.

Hours earlier, some residents of the reservation had harassed non-Indians who stopped at the store and other shops to buy cigarettes. They seized one person’s car and refused to allow others to leave until they returned the cigarettes.

Smoke Signals and the other targeted stores have refused to pay the tribal government’s 25-cents-a-carton tax on cigarettes, saying tribal chiefs are keeping the money for themselves. The tribe says they owe $2 million over the dispute that dates to 1988.

The reservation’s cigarette business has boomed because products sold there are exempt from New York sales taxes.

″I think it started out with greed,″ said Kevin Bucktooth, who supports the tribal chiefs.

″Money gets a hold of you and makes you think differently,″ he said as he sat outside his smoke shop with a .22 caliber rifle.

The reservation’s cigarette business has boomed because products sold there are exempt from state sales taxes.

Smoke Signals sustained substantial damage in Wednesday’s fire. Its owner, Kenneth Papineau, 50; his daughter, Michelle, 27; and Jennifer Powless, 21, were arrested after a scuffle with two Onondaga County Sheriff’s deputies outside the store. All three were released on bail.

″I’m afraid somebody’s going to get killed,″ Papineau’s son, Kent, said.

After the fire, Onondaga leaders held a private meeting, and chiefs and clan mothers condemned the business owners.

″The whole land to them is a piece of property they can make money off. They’re Onondaga by blood, but they don’t think or feel Onondaga,″ Audrey Shenandoah said.

But Oliver R. Hill, who won’t pay taxes on the cigarettes he sells at O.R.’s, said the tribal government is corrupt and allows many of the reservation’s 800 residents to live in squalor.

″People still have outside toilets,″ Hill said, ″people still burn wood instead of oil.″

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