Letter to the Editor
North Bay Nugget

I am disappointed to see North Bay City Council taking such a narrow view to the issue of First Nations tobacco. At this week’s meeting, the once progressive Council has taken a stance aimed at demonizing First Nations rights and worldview.

Tobacco was the first gift given to the Anishinaabe as a means of praying to our Creator. We have been trading asaamaa (tobacco) since time immemorial. That’s how tobacco was first introduced to the settlers. Today, Anishinaabe people continue to trade in tobacco as a means of making a living for our families. Our governments assert that First Nations have the right to sell tobacco as we have for millennia.

Let’s be honest, this isn’t about health issues or tax fairness. This is about making money. If this was about health issues, then tobacco would have been banned long ago. Would City Council would ever think about advocating choking off the supply of non-native tobacco? Truth be told, this is about convenience stores, big tobacco companies and the tax man not making as much money as they have in the past. Now that First Nations are making some of that money, that same activity that was so lucrative, is now branded “contraband” or “illegal”.

The so-called taxpayer lobby, tobacco companies and the convenience store association regularly use these demonizing words in their messaging, which is now becoming common vernacular. Today this is all synonymous with the anti-First Nation sentiment, leading to further racism, intolerance and propagation of unfair, contemporary stereotypes.

I’m not saying this tobacco market shouldn’t be regulated. Let’s work with First Nations to legitimize and regulate this market. Let’s include prohibitions against advertising and curbing tobacco-only smoke shops. Let’s equalize the prices of tobacco products by including a First Nation Health Tax to fund poverty-reduction programs, affordable housing and First Nations health care.

I’m not involved in the tobacco business, I am not a smoker, and in fact, I personally oppose the sale and abuse of such a beautiful, spiritual gift that tobacco is. But let’s not continue to demonize all Anishinaabe people and legitimate First Nation businesses. To you, it might be contraband, to me, it’s our right and part of our economy. To you, they may be smugglers, to me, they’re my friends. To you, they may be an illegal retailer, to me, they’re my family. We are not involved in organized crime, nor do we sell tobacco to minors, lace our tobacco with rat pooh, or steal your children in the night. We’re businesspeople, just like Mr. Bain and Mr. Vaillancourt, making a living, raising our families.

Bob Goulais
Nipissing First Nation