TOBACCO: Another 34 Indian Tribes File Suit
Just two weeks after 20 Indian tribes and pueblos filed a $1 billion federal lawsuit to gain access to the national tobacco settlement, another 34 tribes, mostly form the West and Midwest, are "expected to file suit today in state court accusing the tobacco industry of deliberately targeting Indians." The suit, which names Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., among others, seeks an end to advertisements that target Indian teenagers and damages commensurate with the national tobacco settlement signed in November. A 1998 Surgeon General's report noted that 39% of American Indians smoke, compared with 26.5% of blacks, 25.9% of whites and 18.9% of Hispanics. Red Eagle Rael, governor of the Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico, said, "We have never been educated about the dangers of smoking."
Turner Branch, an Albuquerque attorney, said of the plaintiff's exclusion from the state settlement, Indians "got no money. They got no benefits of the settlement. They had no one representing them at the table." John Phillips, an attorney for Philip Morris, noted that as the federal government pays for health care on Indian reservations, only the federal government can lay a claim to damages. He said, "The tribes have received their health funding -- the vast majority of the funding -- through the Indian Health Services, which is an arm of the federal government. Those are federal monies, not tribal monies. Only the federal government, not the tribes, (has) the right to sue for those funds." But Albert Hale, a former Navajo Nation president and counsel to the law firm filing the lawsuit, disagreed, arguing that the federal government must allocate money for Indian health services as part of its treaties with the tribes. He said, "The moment it is appropriated, it is Indian money. It loses that federal-money label" (AP/Austin American- Statesman, 6/16).