|Due to tribal sovereignty and tax exemptions,|
luxurious tribal smoke shops such as this one
enjoy a price advantage. In the background,
smoke rises from a mountain of broken treaties.
If you listen closely, a new refrain can be heard echoing across the plains of Oklahoma, bubbling up from the streams and carried on the whisper of the wind. "That's not fair." It's a phrase Joseph Coffey knows all too well.
As proprietor of Joe's Smoke Stop outside of Tecumseh, the Citizen Pottawatomie tobacco merchant hears it all the time from his nontribal competitors. This legislative session has already seen the passage of Gov. Brad Henry's controversial gambling expansion bill, which allows Indian casinos to expand their gaming operations. Furthermore, the governor's cigarette tax proposal has raised opposition from nontribal tobacco retailers, who say that the bill will put them at a disadvantage compared to their Indian counterparts.
The effects of tribal sovereignty have created an unequal playing field, leaving nontribal businesses fighting to compete and tribal merchants struggling to give a rat's ass. Fischer's Tobaccy Shacky has been the Bartlesville for generations, ever since the Cherokees were displaced so that white people could drill for oil.
"I grew up in an Oklahoma with one flag, and I don't think it's fair that we say some people can do some things and some people can't."
Things are tough all over: As Fischer work to remain profitable, tribal dealers such as Coffey fight to give a good goddamn. "It's hard," notes Coffey, who says he sometimes feels guilty for his inability to feel sorry for the little pussies. "I guess we've really forgotten what it's like to be treated unfairly. I guess the 200 years of ass-ramming by federal and state governments made us overlook the suffering of the guy who owns the Love's in Purcell" he said. Coffey is not alone; Indian officials across the state spend countless seconds trying to feel sympathy for non-tribal tobacco dealers, only to find that they can't. Tribal governments are working on the problem, and the Choctaw Nation has commissioned the construction of the world's smallest violin, to be played exclusively for non-tribal cigarette dealers. Choctaw official David Haines hopes the violin will ease relations by showing that Oklahoma's Indian population is sympathetic to its competition. "It must be hard to play at an unfair table," he said.
"Almost as hard as it is to cope with sky-high rates of poverty, alcoholism and mental illness due to generations of oppression by foreign invaders." Haines invited the jilted dealers to share they're concerns. "Cry me a fuckin' river, crackers" he said. In a recent meeting, the Absentee Shawnee tribe considering shedding a single, solitary tear for the people who forced them to leave their lands, marched them into Oklahoma, then took that land when oil was discovered. Supporters said the measure would show solidarity with other retailers, since it's not like American Indians discovered tobacco or anything. Ultimately, the member rejected the measure in favor of laughing their asses off.