R.I. Tribe Strikes Back

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

R.I. Tribe Strikes Back

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Narragansett Indian Tribe sued the state of Rhode Island Tuesday, claiming its rights were violated during a tumultuous state police raid on the tribe's new tax-free tobacco shop.

The Narragansetts also asked the U.S. District Court to reaffirm that the tribe is a sovereign nation and declare that the state police acted illegally when they arrested seven tribe officials Monday and confiscated tobacco products and $900 from the tribe's smoke shop, which opened Saturday on tribal land, according to the Associated Press.

The tribe also filed for a temporary restraining order that would keep the state from interfering with the shop. "We're hoping to get immediate consideration to reopen our shop," Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas said Tuesday outside the federal courthouse.

Gov. Don Carcieri said after the raid that in the days after the smoke shop opened, he told the tribe that the state might be willing to reach an agreement over the smoke shop, but first the store had to close down.

"Their demands were totally unacceptable," Carcieri said. "They demanded as a contingent of the discussion that I drop my opposition to a casino."

The suit seeks a declaration from the court that the tribe has authority to sell cigarette products free of state taxes.

"Our interpretation of the legal issues is that tribes do it all over the country. They sell their cigarettes and they make a living," said Thomas, who was one of a group arrested during the raid.

Forcing the tribes to collect those taxes can be a problem, so some states have entered into compacts with individual tribes. The National Association of Convenience Stores has said more than a dozen states have compacts with at least some tribes within their borders.

In entering the tobacco store and seizing cartons of cigarettes Monday, state officials said they were enforcing state law, by which the Narragansett are bound, according to the 1978 Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act. The act gave the tribe 1,800 acres near Charlestown.

State officials said it also required the tribe to abide by Rhode Island state laws. The tribe's attorney, Jack Killoy, said the only body that can tax the tribe is the U.S. Congress.