Saturday, June 27, 2009


Well, it all depends, I guess...

I'm in a quandary about this. Medium-sized quandary.

Where does tribal sovereignty become dangerous? I mostly think right about here. This is right on the edge, teetering. I mean people have the right to blow themselves up...but things are so wacky out there, with the flipped-out Right wing preparing for armed rebellion, that I'm worried. Remember the line about "Another nut with a gun?" Another nut with a pocketful of M-80s doesn't seem too good an idea.

I also think anything the tribes can do to make money off their occupiers is not necessarily bad...

And there certainly have been times in my life when I've enjoyed the hell out of firecrackers and M-80s... So, no easy answers.

Last updated June 27, 2009 1:34 p.m. PT

Explosive fireworks easy to find at Boom City


EVERETT, Wash. -- Need a ditch dug? Skip the hard work and instead use a strategically placed purchase from Boom City.

Or, tie it to a tree you want to uproot.

Vendors at Boom City, the annual fireworks market on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, have all sorts of suggestions for people who purchase cherry bombs, M-250s and other explosives from their stands.

"Do something positive with it," one vendor said as he wrapped what he described as a quarter stick of dynamite in napkins. He carefully placed it in a plastic bag, along with a package of firecrackers - so the small purchase doesn't look so suspicious, he said.

Tulalip tribal leaders say the tribal police department spot-checks fireworks stands for illegal explosives, but it's still easy to buy M-80s, cherry bombs, and even what they claim is full-fledged dynamite on reservation land.

"There's always some fool who thinks he's going to get away with it," said Mike Dunn, chairman of the Boom City Committee.

Federal regulators warn that M-80s and other illegal devices aren't fireworks, they're explosives - small bombs. The devices purchased by The Herald at Boom City were turned over to the Everett Fire Department for destruction.

Tribal police shut down the stands of people in possession of explosives that are illegal under federal law and tribal code, Dunn said, but the temporary village is difficult to patrol. Tribal police often must chase away unlicensed vendors who loiter in the parking lot.

"There are people selling out of their trunks, and more times than once, we've run them out," Dunn said. "They show up and say, 'Hey, man, I got some M-80s. You want some M-80s?' And they go from rez to rez."

Boom City is a jurisdictional headache for other law enforcement agencies, too. The reservation is sovereign tribal land, subject only to federal laws. That means fireworks that are illegal under state law are legal on the reservation, as long as they comply with federal law.

State and local police agencies don't have jurisdiction over tribal land. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives only investigates if there's a complaint of illegal activity, spokesman Nicholas Starcevic said.

"The problem with reservations is that they're their own little entity," he said. "We don't regulate them."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission works jointly with Customs and Border Patrol to check imported goods at their point of entry, commission spokeswoman Nychelle Fleming said.

It's impossible to know how many of the illegal explosives seized each year were destined for Indian reservations because the paperwork attached to such shipments often doesn't state the ultimate destination, she said.

Starcevic, the ATF spokesman, said the people who likely expected such shipments can easily deny ever ordering illegal items.

If the explosives are homemade, it's nearly impossible to monitor their sales.

Tulalip tribal members and others have been convicted in the past of selling illegal explosives at Boom City. In 2001, one man was sentenced to a year in federal prison, and another man was sentenced to 14 months for manufacturing illegal explosives including M-80s, silver salutes and other devices. It's been some time since a vendor was shut down for illegal sales, Dunn said.

"We hear the rumors, 'Oh, you can get whatever you want out at Boom City,' but if that's true, (the vendor) will be going to tribal court because that will hurt all of us," Dunn said.

Even when every Boom City vendor observes the law, state and local police agencies say they struggle to control the flow of fireworks off the reservation. Some of what is allowed under federal law is illegal under state law on non-reservation land.

State troopers can't stop cars leaving Boom City unless there is a traffic violation or some other type of infraction, Sgt. Freddy Williams said. A trooper can seize fireworks that are illegal under state law if that trooper can see them in the car that has been stopped for such an infraction, but that doesn't give the trooper the right to search the vehicle for more illegal items, Williams said.

"If you have reasonable suspicion, you need consent to search from the person, or you need to get a search warrant," he said.

Troopers can take action if they discover people detonating illegal fireworks off-reservation, Williams said. Last year, state police confiscated fireworks 18 times, including four instances in and around Snohomish County, he said. Each time, troopers seized hundreds of bottle rockets, mortar shells, thunderbombs and other illegal firecrackers, he said.

There is a "detonation area" at Boom City to encourage people who buy fireworks to light them on tribal land, where they're legal, said Dunn of the Boom City Committee. Boom City organizers can't control people who are determined to take fireworks off the reservation, he said.

John Rivera of Tulalip is owner of Brickhouse Fireworks. He travels to China each year to design and produce colorful explosives that he then sells to tribal fireworks stand owners.

"Ninety-nine percent of my stuff" is legal under Washington state law, he said. The rest is illegal everywhere but on the reservation, he said.

People should be allowed to light fireworks wherever they live, Dunn said. He's proud that Boom City offers a place for fireworks lovers to legally detonate whatever they purchase.

"People want fireworks," he said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be here."

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