The standoff may be over, but the war has not been won for the Golden Hill Paugeesukq First Nation. The Paugeesukq Tribal Council walked into a hornet’s nest when it opened a small tobacco shop on its 106-acre reservation near Colchester, Connecticut last April. The state ordered the smoke shop closed and surrounded the community with hundreds of stale troopers.
A lengthy standoff ensued, lasting as long as the seiges of Pine Ridge and Oka. Half-way through the conflict, Moonface Bear, who is both chief of the tribal council and the war chief, was charged with illegally selling tobacco. Chief Bear was recently elected to the leadership of the American Indian Movement, the militant U.S.-wide aboriginal organization famous for the standoff at Wounded Knee. He finally surrendered to state authorities in November and intends to fight the charges in court. Under a 1989 Connecticut law, the governor is obliged to negotiate all taxes to be collected on any trade conducted by members of a recognized First Nation. But the Paugeesukq met with stalling when they tried to enter talks on the tobacco shop two years ago.
The state’s heavy-handed tactics have turned Chief Bear into a media star in the U.S. Northeast, says Carla Nemiroff, a Montreal solidarity activist who visited the Paugeesukq. “He has tons of support.”