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Hot Docs: How the Mohawk tobacco industry caught fire  

Jump to full article: Toronto (Ont) Star (ca), 2012-05-03
Author: Linda Barnard


Where there’s smoke there’s ire, at least when it comes to critics of the tobacco industry on native reserves, evidenced in Ojibway filmmaker Jeff Dorn’s Smoke Traders.

The TVO-commissioned documentary, which had its world premiere at Hot Docs Thursday, screens again Friday. It will air on TVO this fall.

Dorn, who works at CTV Ottawa, spent three years filming in the Mohawk communities of Akwesasne and Kahnawake, documenting a thriving economy both among cigarette runners and the growing number of native-run cigarette factories and tobacco companies.

The doc starts out with runners making trips across the St. Lawrence River, ferrying duty-free cigarettes from aboriginal land to areas where taxes push up the price of cigarettes. . . .

What was once shadowy enterprise, with smugglers bringing duty-free products from the U.S. to Canadian consumers of black market, tax-free smokes has evolved into a multi-million-dollar industry run by native factory owners who produce cigarettes for tax-free sales on Canadian and U.S. reserves.

“We (Mohawks) control 50 per cent of the industry in Quebec and Ontario,” said Dickson proudly. And if they sell cigarettes to non-natives who come to the reserve to buy them without paying taxes, that’s hardly Rainbow Tobacco’s problem.

As one man says in the doc: “Canada calls it illegal. We call it good business.” . . .

Filmmaker Dorn said he wanted to show another side of native life with Smoke Traders.

“I’m not promoting smoking or tobacco,” said Dorn, who kicked the habit himself just over two months ago.

“The thing that amazed me as an aboriginal man is there’s not much left in the community for people to grab onto and this is something the Mohawks have found. It’s a powerful took and it’s an economic engine. You have an industry that is creating jobs and employment.”

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