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SENECAS CLAIM ROADBLOCK KILLS BUSINESS INDIANS SAY STATE IS DELIBERATELY IMPEDING FUEL SALES

Kevin Nephew, business manager for the Seneca Nation of Indians here, Wednesday blamed a state truck roadblock near Silver Creek for a 50 percent loss of diesel fuel business over three days.

His Seneca competitor across the road, Barry Snyder, owner of the Seneca Hawk fuel outlet, said he lost "20 . . . maybe 30 percent of diesel-fuel business."

"There is no question in my mind that the tax people set up this roadblock . . . right next to our reservation to get back at us for beating them in their battle to to collect state taxes on Indian reservations," Snyder said.

Karl Felsen, a spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, said "we are doing exactly what the courts and the Indian retailers have told us to do -- accepting the responsibility for collecting highway use taxes."

Felsen insisted that the location was chosen "because about 650 trucks a day get off at that exit."

Indications late Wednesday were that the end was in sight since the truckers' citizens band radio network has been alerting drivers throughout the state.

Snyder also said that the Mohawk Warriors Society from the St. Regis Reservation "called as soon as they heard what was going on here and wanted us to know they were ready to come down and do whatever had to be done to help us deal with this latest threat to our sovereignty."

The St. Regis was the site of major disturbances this spring when divisions between the Warriors Society and other residents over gambling and sovereignty led to several deaths and a state police blockade.

Nephew, who oversees operation of the Senecas' fuel outlet on the Cattaraugus Reservation, just a few miles from the Silver Creek Thruway exit, said the roadblock begun Monday by the state tax department, "is discriminatory, an unfair tactic toward both the Indians and the truckers and an economic sanction against the Senecas."

The roadblock started about 6 a.m. Monday. Until late each evening, state taxation department officers have been waving the big rigs off the road, checking them for fuel tax registration stickers and warning them that if they buy fuel on the reservation, where no state excise taxes are collected, the truckers still are responsible for paying the tax.

After a proposed sales tax agreement between the state and the Seneca Nation failed to win approval in the Legislature last March, Felsen said the tax department would shift its effort to collect excise taxes to court actions and highway checkpoints.

Snyder said he didn't "dispute New York state's right to collect taxes within its lands . . . nor their right to set up roadblocks, but I do dispute their right to single out one individual or one Indian nation for harassment . . . In March of 1990, the state agreed not to harass the Indian people. However, it appears that they cannot honor their word."

Nephew agreed with Snyder, pointing out that "there is no roadblock near our reservation near Salamanca and other tribes around the state don't have roadblocks."

Indian businessmen on the Cattaraugus suspect their reservation was targeted because Snyder was one of the leaders opposing the proposed tax agreement.

Felsen said there were other roadblocks.

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