Cigarettes continue to spark controversy on Montana reserve

  • Mar. 2, 2011 8:00 p.m.

CHARLES TWEED

It was meant to be a press conference to present a press release from the Montana First Nation Council regarding recent events involving illegal cigarettes — it turned out to be anything but.

The toughest part might have been determining who the legitimate council is.

The release was supposed to come from Coun. Bradley Rabbit, one of the three remaining members of the council after Chief Carolyn Buffalo and Leonard Stadingontheroad were suspended without pay for their alleged involvement with the confiscated cigarettes.

Prior to Rabbit entering the room for the press conference, Buffalo stole the show.

“Today’s press conference was not called by myself or the majority of my council,” said Buffalo, with Standingontheroad and Coun. Garry Louis in the room as a show of support.

She called into question the validity of the suspensions, suggesting the remaining two members of the band are misinforming the public and turning band members against them.

She then addressed the issue of the cigarettes and the pending lawsuit.

“We are trying to create an economy here because we don’t have one to speak of and if we wait for the governments to give us one, that’s never going to happen. We have to create it ourselves,” said Buffalo.

“The AGLC has no jurisdiction on this reserve or any reserve. This is federal jurisdiction, plain and simple. It’s in the Indian Act, period.”

Ten minutes into the interview with Buffalo, Sgt. Jim Lank from the Hobbema RCMP detachment interrupted and said he needed to speak to the suspended chief.

The proceedings carried out into the hallway where Lank said he was acting on behalf of the current council.

“The current council is not here to speak,” said Lank before being cut off by Buffalo.

“Yes, they are,” she said trying to assert her disapproval with the suspension.

From there, Buffalo was escorted out of the building and the original press conference took place.

Councillors Bradly Rabbit and Rema Rabbit entered the room and gave a statement.

“I and my colleague, Councillor Rema Rabbit want to clearly state that Montana First Nation,as represented by its council, has had absolutely no involvement in any negotiations or agreements to bring these cigarettes onto the reserve to store the cigarettes,” he said. “These cigarettes are allegedly contraband cigarettes.”

The Rabbits made it clear that they were the acting band council and that no lawsuit had been file by the Montana First Nation.

On Jan. 5, investigators from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) and the RCMP confiscated about 75,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes worth an estimated $47 million.

The cigarettes were found as a result of a search warrant, after Chief Buffalo called RCMP to investigate claims some of the cigarettes had been stolen.

Buffalo issued an apology and said she felt she had entered into a legitimate business deal in an attempt to bolster the reserves economy.

The night following the seizure at an emergency meeting, both the chief and councillor involved were suspended.

On Feb. 18, Buffalo and Quebec company Rainbow Tobacco filed a lawsuit demanding the AGLC return the confiscated cigarettes.

In the statement of claim, the plaintiff stated the province lacked the jurisdiction to enter onto a reserve and enforce Alberta’s Tobacco Tax Act on status Indians.

The plaintiff asked for the cigarettes to be returned and $1 million in damages as a result of defamation.

The defamation is linked to an AGLC news release suggesting the cigarettes were illegal and would result in a loss of “$3 million in lost tax revenue to the province.”

The lawsuit states the seizure of cigarettes has “inhibited the economic development” of the reserve.