Yakama Nation business continues fight to Protect Treaty Rights

WHITE SWAN, Yakama Nation, Washington (April 2013)

The Yakama people have been working to have state and federal government keep the promises made by the United States Senate and President James Buchanan ever since the Yakama Treaty, signed in 1855, was ratified by the United States Senate and signed by the President. Delbert Wheeler has been a leader in the fight to protect Yakama fishing rights, logging rights, and Treaty protections to travel and trade.

Today that struggle continues. On Friday April 5th, United States District Court Judge Lonny Suko summarily ruled against Mr. Wheeler and his company, King Mt. Tobacco, in a case against the State of Washington that Wheeler brought to enforce the Yakama Treaty.

But ignoring the Treaty, Judge Suko instead focused entirely on a state law used by Washington to make millions off the sale of tobacco products in partnership with Philip Morris and other big tobacco companies. King Mountain competes with Big Tobacco, and the State’s contract with those companies requires it to make sure Big Tobacco doesn’t lose any market share to companies like King Mountain. Unlike Big Tobacco, King Mountain uses tobacco from the Yakama Nation in its cigarettes. Every year more tobacco is grown on the Yakama Nation and used in those cigarettes.

Judge Suko recognized that even though early on those numbers were small, “In 2010, the amount of King Mountain [Yakama Nation grown] tobacco was 9.5%, and in 2011, 37.9%.” “This is a disappointment, but not a surprise,” said Wheeler. “People don’t know or appreciate history. They don’t think about how the land they live and work on was taken from us in return for promises that they now want to ignore. For generations we’ve had to rely on the Court of Appeals to correct the mistakes of local judges. This ruling continues that pattern.” “Our Treaty guarantees us the exclusive use and benefit of our land. It also guarantees us the right to travel and trade off our reservation, without government conditions and restrictions that apply to tribes that don’t have our Treaty.

The Yakama people gave up millions of acres of land in return for those sacred Treaty promises. Court cases from other areas that decided issues for those other tribes don’t apply to us or limit our Treaty rights,” Wheeler stated. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Yakama Treaty protects travel and trade even where none of the tobacco comes from the Yakama Nation. U.S. v. Smiskin, available at caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1120611.html

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has said this type of summary judgment cannot be entered in a Yakama Treaty case because the court must hear from the Yakama people. Cree v. Waterbury, available at caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1139890.html

Judge Suko’s ruling denies Wheeler, his company and the Yakama Nation the right to go to trial to prove their case.

That trial had been scheduled to start on May 13 at the federal court house in Yakama.

To find out more about how Washington profits as a partner in the cigarette business, go to http://www.rjrt.com/statemsapayments.aspx (for every pack of cigarettes sold in Washington, 69% of the profit goes to the State).

For more about Washington’s contract with Big Tobacco, go to www.killthemsa.com

To Read the Yakama Treaty, see www.yakamanation-nsn.gov/treaty.php

For more about King Mountain Tobacco, go to www.kingmountaintobacco.com
Contact JoDe Goudy - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (509) 874-9935

A CONVERSATION WITH DELBERT WHEELER by IndianCountryTV.com host Paul DeMain (43min)