Our dynastic empire is a convenience store/gas station on Chiefswood Rd. that everyone on the rez calls “Styres” despite what the sign out front would have you believe. When I first started there it wasn’t the first smokes place you got to on the rez, but it was close enough. It had the benefit of good looking gas attendants that portrayed pumping unleaded with a bewildering sexuality that wouldn’t seem out of place in a rap video. And it sold Doritos, so positives abound.
Naturally, most of the clientele was white people from out of town who had “injun” jokes burning holes in their parkas and self-proclaimed Cherokee royalty in their blood. It’s astounding how many white people have a Cherokee princess in their lineage. I sometimes imagined this collective great-grandmother an unsung Eve, birthing an entire generation of savvy shoppers willing to trek all the way to the reserve to save a few bucks on smokes. Oh, to be the fertile woman whose memory triggered future generations to tar their lungs in tribute!
I’m not sure exactly when everyone with a trailer and a gaggle of cash-strapped teens realized the money in contraband. It must have been more gradual of a take-over than my memory lets on, but it was hardly nice. Six Nations might be well-known for its green scenery, or its Champion of Champions Pow-Wow, or its unconfirmed status as gossip capital of the world, but what’s lesser known about us is our competitive nature. Seemingly overnight the ride into Six became a tour of black portable signs, each with letters more neon than the last. “Buy 10, Get 1 Free” was bested by “Buy 10, Get 2 Free. And a coffee,” and so on and so forth. The rollies arms race had begun.
I always suspected there was a link between the profit margin of a smoke shack and its proximity to the “Welcome to Six Nations” sign. While I’ve never had any figures in front of me, the sheer number of trailers hastily settled on bricks and staffed with Native P.Y.T.s along Highway 54 certainly suggests such. The current Elliott-in-residence at Styres has assured me sales aren’t as high now as when I was top clerk. Still, they do well enough to keep our family's teens gainfully employed.
When we see each other we swap stories about the proper protocol for addressing Cherokee royalty. Muse on the irony of being discount death merchants for people who complain about our tax-free status. Wonder how many other families see contraband sales as their birthright. Strategize on how we can best ‘em.