Private investors in a gas bar taken over by Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation say they left peacefully when evicted by the band Wednesday night but they're not giving up without a legal fight.
"We're going to the courts to rule on the legality of our being there," said David Doer. He said he and Larry Penner, owner of Penner Oil, are seeking a court injunction to take back control of the Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar on band-owned land until the courts can decide on the bigger question of whether to honour their 20-year lease of the land.
"This is a real problem," said Doer, an accountant for First Nations for more than 30 years and the brother of former premier Gary Doer.
ON March 20, the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation band council passed a resolution approving the "repossession of band-owned commercial property... operating as Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar." It said revenue generated by the business was to flow back to the band but has been "privately diverted to certain individuals who occupy the premises unlawfully without the goodwill, licensure or proper authorization of the band."
On Wednesday evening, an eviction notice was posted on the door of the Highway 6 gas bar, just north of Winnipeg. Staff was sent home and security guards occupied the shop. Four RCMP cruisers stood by to keep the peace.
On Thursday morning, the sign in front of the gas bar said "temporarily closed for renovations -- opening soon under new management."
"When you have something like this, no person is going to invest one dollar in an Indian band when they think they're going to lose all of their investment," he said.
Roseau Chief Ken Henry held a news conference Thursday to say the band is "elated" it has taken over the gas bar on its land along Highway 6.
Henry has been in a long-running dispute with former Roseau chief Terry Nelson, now grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization.
Nelson's daughter, Kathy Nelson, runs much of the operation along with Doer. Henry and his council allege most revenue from the gas bar and smoke shop are accruing to Kathy Nelson and Doer.
The band says revenue -- millions of dollars in cigarette rebates and gas sales -- properly belongs to Roseau. Henry said the First Nation invested $2.1 million of its Treaty Land Entitlement money in the business but hasn't seen any return on its investment in the past several years.
Doer said the band invested nothing in the seven-year-old business.
"It is a total lie that the band has any money in the building or the operating of the building," said Doer. "They should refer to their own audit."
Doer said the band paid $350,000 to put gravel on the site and $600,000 for the gaming centre next door.
Doer said he put up the money for the gas bar and its furnishings and Penner Oil provided the gas tanks, pumps and operating system. The store had a 20-year lease that was approved before the band voted in a 2008 referendum not to approve commercial designation of the land, he said.
"The band will not live up to an agreement they have in place for the tobacco tax rebate," said Doer. "It's split between the band and Red Sun Smoke Shop -- it's a written agreement.
"They're supposed to pay for sewer and water, garbage pickup and Internet. They would not and it had gone into arrears."
The business, not the band, has been paying for the services for several years, he said. They haven't submitted the tobacco-tax rebate tax receipts because the band will scoop the money and the shop won't get its cut or the services promised in the lease, Doer said.
"We've always been available to negotiate," he said. "All they have to do is assure us we'll get our fair portion. No other First Nation takes 100 per cent of the operating revenue. They're saying, 'Get out of the building and give us 100 per cent of the rebate.' "
Chief Henry said the gas bar's 35 employees can keep their jobs and the band is ready to get down to business.
"One of the things we're most looking forward to is expansion," he said.
The lack of a commercial designation for the property has held it back from attracting new investors, he said.
"A lot of businesses didn't come. We will convert this land and get it designated," said Henry. "They need that assurance that business can and will go on for many years to come."
Doer said the eviction and court battle will hurt everyone. "I said to the chief (Henry) last night: 'This is ridiculous -- everyone is going to pay a fortune in court costs if we don't come to an agreement.' They don't seem to want to make a deal -- they want to take it over and own everything themselves without compensation to us," Doer said.
"If self-government is where we're headed, they have to deal with the letter of the law."