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Shinnecock tribe votes to tighten tobacco rules

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation voted recently to tighten rules on the sale and manufacture of tobacco products and to codify legal residency and guest status on the Southampton reservation, while disbanding the tribe's gaming authority and commission, tribal members said.

Tribal spokeswoman Beverly Jensen declined to comment on the vote, saying the referendums were internal tribal business. Tribal trustees also declined to comment.

The Rev. Michael Smith, pastor of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church and a tribal member, said the new rules represented efforts by tribal government to "try to restore some semblance of order."

The tobacco rules create a new office of tribal tobacco products that will issue permits for selling, making and distributing the products on the reservation. The commission has the power to hold hearings and revoke licenses, impose penalties and make sure cigarettes made on the reservation comply with the law. The ordinance also sets up a tobacco fund fed by a new tax on the products. The money would be used for education and health.

Fines of up to $10,000 can be imposed for violations of the new law. The measure passed 98-55 with one abstention, according to one tribal member.

"The cigarette issue is nothing new," Smith said. "This was proposed 25 years ago." The idea, he said, is that "the tribe benefits from the sale of tobacco, as opposed to just a few individuals."

The new residency law sets conditions for those living on or visiting the reservation if they are not tribal members. For instance, guests on the reservation must register with the tribe if they stay for more than five days, carry an ID card and stay with a recognized member, among other measures. It also codifies the terms for trespass, and conditions for revoking guest status on the reservation, including destroying trees or plants, shooting firearms or violating a restraining order. The measure passed 91-63.

"It's more an issue of telling who resides on the reservation," Smith said. "Trustees have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the community. You can't just have anybody living within your reservation."

But some tribal shop owners oppose the new tobacco ordinance, saying the added fees and restrictions will choke a vital tribal income source.

"The smoke shops are the largest employers on the reservation and the tobacco ordinance is a dangerous document that threatens the operational stability of the shops and the employment of a lot of heads of households within the community," said former tribal trustee Lance Gumbs, who owns a smoke shop.

Opponents could contest the rules in court, setting up a more fundamental challenge to the recently ratified tribal constitution, which Gumbs and others say was not properly approved.

The tribe also voted to disband its Gaming Authority and Gaming Commission, bodies that had been active in the tribe's pursuit of a casino, but have recently been inactive as efforts to secure various gaming locations failed to materialize.

The tribe's effort with a Detroit casino group, Gateway Casino Resorts, has stalled.

But the sources said the Shinnecocks last year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Seminole Indians of Florida to explore a Long Island casino.

Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, denied the tribe had a memorandum of understanding with the Shinnecocks, but added, "Hard Rock looks at opportunities all the time, but does not comment on them."

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