It sounds like something out of a Wild Western movie and it's pitting the Mayor of New York City against Indian Nations throughout the state.
The controversy stems from what Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show last week. As reported in the New York Post, he advised Governor David Paterson to put up a good fight against cigarette retailers on Indian reservations who peddle tobacco tax-free.
"I said to David Paterson, I said, 'You know, get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there's ever a great video it's you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying you know read my lips, the law of the land is this and we're going to enforce the law,'" Bloomberg said.
The comment comes a day after a federal judge ruled against allowing the Seneca's to continue mailing cigarettes to customers while they appeal an earlier ruling. It's a part of a battle that's been brewing between Indian Nations and the federal government for years. The Seneca Indian Nation and others say the state does not have the authority to impose its laws on them, that they are sovereign nations.
But it doesn't end there. Now, Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation is getting involved, sending a scathing letter to Mayor bloomberg. In the letter obtained by CNY Central, Halbritter says, "We were deeply offended and saddened by your comments...Using imagery of the governor "wearing a cowboy hat and holding a shotgun" to confront Native Americans is offensive and hurtful to us."
Halbritter goes on to compare the struggle of Native Americans to protect their homeland to the Jews who have a similar connection to Israel. "Native Americans and American Jews share a common interest in protecting our respective homelands from those who seek to exterminate an entire culture, just as the 'cowboys' sought to eliminate Native Americans," Halbritter said. "You can similarly imagine how members of the Jewish community would react if a politician urged the governor to 'wear a red armband and hold a shotgun' to confront Jewish people who defend their lands as we defend ours."
It's a story that's already sparking debate online. One reader writes on the New York Post website, "tax the Indians, but not Wall St. Bloomberg shows himself to be both a bigot and a gun nut."
Yet another says, "let's stop giving the Indians a free ride. They should be paying taxes just like the rest of us. As a nation, we owe them nothing, anymore than we owe blacks for slavery never committed by anyone alive today."
Another reader says, "Reservations are sovereign nations and mayor Puttts is so arrogant, he thinks as mayor he can order the governor."
Do you think the Mayor went too far? Should he apologize to Native Americans? Do you think Native Americans should charge sales tax on cigarettes? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Here is full letter from Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation:
Dear Mayor Bloomberg,
We were deeply offended and saddened by your comments to Governor Paterson regarding the State's relationship with sovereign Indian nations. Using imagery of the governor "wearing a cowboy hat and holding a shotgun" to confront Native Americans is offensive and hurtful to us. Worse, these remarks incite dangerous fringe elements in an already volatile situation.
When our ancestors welcomed the newcomers to this land and helped feed and assist them, the act alone demonstrated how we always desired to find a way for all of us to live successfully and freely together. Instead, the newcomers took what they wanted by any means necessary, often by brute force. For you to suggest that New York State follow that disturbing and immoral pattern today is more than simply disrespectful. It implies that, even in the 21st century, the dominant society thinks there is nothing wrong with continuing to encroach upon the rights -- through force, if necessary -- of the first Americans.
Moreover, Native Americans and American Jews share a common interest in protecting our respective homelands from those who seek to exterminate an entire culture, just as the "cowboys" sought to eliminate Native Americans. You can similarly imagine how members of the Jewish community would react if a politician urged the governor to "wear a red armband and hold a shotgun" to confront Jewish people who defend their lands as we defend ours. While you claim to be calling just for the law to be enforced, surely as a Jewish leader you would recognize the tragic history of laws being used to suppress ethnic minorities. These laws are not defensible. Our Jewish friends were right to object to such laws in Europe, and we would hope you would stand with us in opposition to calls to "just enforce the law" against us without recognizing the consequences far beyond merely a tax revenue issue for the State.
As the mayor of America's largest and most diverse metropolis, you know that the only effective way to resolve differences is through honest, mutually respectful dialogue, not by perpetuating stereotypes that incite dangerous thinking that does not respect life.