The Cayuga Nation is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against seven officials of the Oklahoma-based Seneca-Cayuga Nation, as well as two Cayuga Nation citizens, over the sale of tax-free goods at a smoke shop and convenience store (Pipekeepers Tobacco & Gas) located at 126 E. Bayard St. in Seneca Falls. While the store is owned by the Seneca-Cayuga Nation and is within the Cayuga Nation’s reservation, it is not an economic enterprise of Cayuga Nation and thus does not enjoy the Nation’s sovereign right to sell untaxed goods.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on October 7, 2021. In papers filed today, the Cayuga Nation seeks interim relief in the form of a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Seneca-Cayuga Nation from selling untaxed cigarettes and other tax-free goods within the Cayuga Nation’s reservation. Also named in the lawsuit are two Cayuga Nation citizens, Dustin Parker and Warren Johns, who are operating the business.
Based on the Seneca-Cayuga’s lack of sovereign land within the Cayuga Nation’s reservation, the lawsuit alleges that the convenience store’s sale of untaxed cigarettes and other tax-free goods is unlawful. The Seneca-Cayuga Nation is only permitted to conduct tax-free business within its own reservation in Oklahoma.
“This business is not affiliated with the Cayuga Nation and does not enjoy the Cayuga Nation’s inherent sovereignty, period,” said Cayuga Nation leader Clint Halftown, who also serves as the Cayuga Nation’s Federal Representative and member of its governing body, the Cayuga Nation Council. “The owners and operators of this business are in clear violation of the law and while we wait for the relevant authorities to take action, we are asking the court to issue the necessary order to prohibit further illegal actions.”
The Seneca-Cayuga Nation had previously operated the E. Bayard St. property as a smoke shop and convenience store known as “Skydancer” in late 2011 or 2012. In 2013, the federal government seized unstamped cigarettes and cash from the Skydancer store and initiated a forfeiture action against the Seneca-Cayuga Nation in federal court. Ultimately, the Seneca-Cayuga Nation entered into a consent agreement whereby it agreed not to reopen the Skydancer store until it obtained all of the necessary permits.
“Our attorneys sent a letter to the Seneca-Cayuga Nation on September 15, 2021 requesting that it stop its support and participation in the unlawful sale of untaxed cigarettes at the Pipekeepers store,” Halftown said. “Despite sending our letter more than two months ago, Pipekeepers has continued to operate. Their actions irreparably harm the Cayuga Nation by infringing on and undermining our inherent sovereign rights within our reservation.”
Halftown said that the Pipekeepers store also sells loose individual cigarettes known as “rollies” which is prohibited under the federal Counterfeit Cigarette Trafficking Act as well as New York law, and that the Cayuga Nation’s profits from cigarette sales have declined significantly since the Pipekeepers store opened.
“Our right to operate our businesses within our reservation is exclusive to the Cayuga Nation. The Seneca-Cayuga Nation has no federally recognized reservation land or status in New York,” Halftown said. “We are asking the federal court for immediate relief to put these illegal sales to an end.”
FingerLakes1.com is the region’s leading all-digital news publication. The company was founded in 1998 and has been keeping residents informed for more than two decades. Have a lead? Send it to [email protected].