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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Native American Times, June 2001:

Tribal grocery store meets opposition in non-Indian community

By David Scholes

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has been serious about economic development for centuries. However its latest venture, the Firelake Discount Food store, seems to have treaded on some toes in the Shawnee area. Competing non-native stores are concerned about what they call "unfair" competition. The concern was important enough for the Sunday Oklahoman (June 3, 2001) to devote three front page articles and all of page four to the issue.

People like J.B. Pratt, owner of Pratt Food, is upset over the competition and says the new store "erodes the life of the community," according to the Sunday Oklahoman. Others like U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook are working to get laws passed to enforce the tribes to pay state taxes.

Coalitions are being formed by people who believe the tribes have an unfair advantage. They want congress to force tribes to charge state sales tax to non-native customers. According to Bob Doucette and Mark A. Hutchison, Daily Oklahoman writers, the complaint is also that the tribes are not regulated by state agencies.

The Sunday Oklahoman also directs everyone's attention to a local news station that will cover the story. Both the newspaper and TV station deemed the story important to the people of Oklahoma. However they are not in praise of the new store with its keen insights and use of technology. Instead the stories emphasis the so-called unfairness of the competition issued from the Firelake Store's competitors. It seems competition is great for American business as long as Native Americans do not get involved.

To the writers credit they do cite evidence to disprove all of the claims of the competing stores and coalitions. Although these items are mentioned near the end of their articles.

The new grocery store is among one of the largest in Oklahoma and features "technology not often found in" the state, according to the Oklahoman articles. It has a bank, food court, and ice cream parlor and will soon also house a radio station. Groceries can be ordered on the Internet, and there is a gas station located there.

Through the tribes marketing studies they found that the real competitors of the local food stores are the bigger stores in Oklahoma City where 55% go to do their shopping to find better prices. The critics of the Potawatomi store do not cite these stores as unfair competition, only the "Indian" store.

The tribe's store adheres to stricter federal regulations than do the state stores. So accusations of questionable health standards are also incorrect. The Firelake store also pays employees better with more benefits.

Rob's comment
The stereotype here is the idea that Indian businesses should operate the same as other businesses. It's a subset of the idea that Indian nations should operate the same as the surrounding states and municipalities. It's only "fair," the critics complain. Or, "it's discrimination" if the playing field isn't level.

Boo-hoo! Fact is, Indian nations and businesses don't have to operate the same as their Anglo counterparts because Indians have sovereign rights. That is, they have a unique political (not ethnic) situation that doesn't correspond to anything else in America. If Anglo-Americans don't like it, well, they can always amend the Constitution. Because that's where these sovereign rights are enshrined.

Of course, if Americans really want a level playing field, they can always give the Indians back their land per the signed treaties. That would restore a truly level playing field. Most of Oklahoma's Indians came from the Southeast—Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and so forth—during the infamous Trail of Tears. How about we give back a third of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, including Atlanta, and call it even-steven?

If the tribal grocery store were taking advantage of sovereignty to cheat or harm the public somehow, it might be cause for concern. But according to this report, the store is doing more than its nearby counterparts to obey the law. That suggests these complaints are subtle examples of racism.

Related links
The facts about tribal sovereignty

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