For centuries, Europeans have run the North American tobacco trade; today the First Nations people are taking it back. But is the tobacco trade a road to independence or criminality for Native people?
Smoke Traders tells the story of the contraband tobacco trade and the effect on individual lives and communities from a Native perspective. The multimillion dollar cigarette industry that Mohawks have built has pulled their communities out of third world poverty, but the Canadian government is determined to shut the trade down. Are these traders criminals who must be stopped? Or are they a new breed of Native entrepreneur who deserve our support?
Director: Jeff Dorn
Co-Director: Catherine Bainbridge
Editor: Howard Goldberg
Composer: Daniel Toussaint
Director of Photography: Jeff Dorn, Gideon Dante, Zacharie Fay, German Gutierrez, Paul Rickard
Line Producer: Lisa M. Roth
Format: 51 minutes - English, French
Dreamspeakers Film Festival 2012
WINNER Best Documentary
37th Annual American Indian Film Festival 2012
NOMINATED Best Documentary Feature
Brian is a former cigarette runner and a struggling entrepreneur from the Akwesasne reserve. A single Dad, he lives in a half-finished mansion, one of the relics of his lucrative days as a smoke trader. After years of looking over his shoulder for police, he’s tired of risking his life speeding across rivers, driven by need and greed. Brian’s got a family to support and a business plan to build a solar panel manufacturing plant in his community. It’s a clean business, the energy wave of the future, and real jobs for the reserve. He just needs the loan. And until then, how long can he resist the temptation of the big bucks he could make running smokes?
Rainbow Tobacco CEO Robbie Dickson is articulate and driven. Now the leader of a multi-million dollar company, he began running cigarettes as a means to subsidize his university education. Robbie amassed a small fortune while obtaining his degree, and went on to build a solid career working as a civil engineer for Kahnawake. But he believed there was more to life then eking out a living working for the local band council so he invested his cigarette money. Robbie bought Rainbow Tobacco, the last Native tobacco company in Kahnawake to hold a federal license. He was building a legitimate, tax-paying enterprise and everything seemed on track until his western expansion. As Rainbow Tobacco shipped out product, the RCMP began seizing it, which was in direct contradiction to what Robbie had been told. It cost him big and Robbie vowed to fight back. This trial by fire forged a new type of leader—an educated, Mohawk politician, entrepreneur and warrior for sovereign rights with the resources to support his people’s battle to determine their own destiny and economic freedom.
Queenie is a vibrant women who speaks her mind with little prompting. A traditional person who spends hours making Mohawk ribbon shirts and dresses. She has so many back-orders that she can barely keep up to the demand. Queenie built her house by the tobacco trade and has tried to unite the Cigarette business to keep it strong. This straight-talking soul of the earth preaches the power and liberty tobacco brings to her people.
Timmy Montour is a contractor and godfather to the tobacco business. Timmy was rich in many of his incarnations during the historic Mohawk tobacco trade. He has seen it all, meeting most of the characters behind the years of running name brand smokes to the current Mohawk made cigarette days. Timmy’s millions went the way of a drug addiction but he fought back and reclaimed his strength, quitting drugs. He lost it all and has returned to his first love as a carpenter. The tobacco business still looms in his life, when times are tough, one phone call can turn into a much-needed financial boost to his pocket. Timmy runs smokes in times of need. This man’s experience makes Timmy Montour the voice of SMOKE TRADERS.