KEITH BORKOWSKY/BRANDON SUN
Tribal Councils Investment Group community development manager Frank Turner (left), Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and TCIG president and CEO Allan McLeod await a chance to discuss casino issues with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Thursday on Swan Lake First Nation-owned land in Headingley.
HEADINGLEY — A proposed casino project for Brandon remains alive after discussions Thursday between the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Brandon city officials and the Tribal Councils Investment Group resulted in a request for further talks.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and Tribal Councils Investment Group (TCIG) executives were present for a gaming discussion with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs at their annual assembly.
AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak will schedule another full-day meeting after chiefs from across the province vigorously debated the merits of the Spirit Sands Casino project near Carberry and the Brandon-TCIG partnership plan for more than three hours.
"I was very pleased to hear so much eloquence about the importance of partnership, and there seemed to be concern because it had been several years since AMC was given their five licences and only two have been built," Decter Hirst said.
"They are just not moving forward at the pace they had initially hoped for and a sense that maybe what we need to do is see if there is merit in looking at a different business model that has Brandon at the table. Brandon and TCIG are saying it’s an idea that’s worth further discussion, and obviously AMC feels the same way now."
Decter Hirst said there was support for the Brandon-TCIG proposal, particularly from Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson.
"He was very eloquent not to just talk about a casino as a partnership, but as an opportunity to work with Brandon on other initiatives including education and all kinds of things," Decter Hirst said, noting many Peguis First Nation band members live in Brandon. "There were several chiefs that spoke that way. It was just trying to put the old feelings behind us so we can move forward."
TCIG president and CEO Allan McLeod noted the request for another meeting and the closing comments made at the meeting by Nepinak are reasons to be optimistic.
"There was an opportunity today to shut down the project, but there is openness and consideration for improving and accelerating the outstanding casino licences," McLeod said.
"He’s very astute and I’m proud of him. Really I am encouraged by this whole process. Having an opportunity to accelerate and have these casinos generate money for our people more quickly is always exciting because there’s tons of benefits and job opportunities behind this. It was a great sunny day."
There were critics of the project and their views were also part of the discussion. McLeod said having differing views can make projects stronger as it forces those developing a project to consider other ideas.
He noted that the TCIG has continued to develop a business plan for a Brandon-based casino as discussions take place.
"We are being asked about how we will involve all of the independent bands and we are definitely committed to do that," McLeod said.
"These meetings are an opportunity for us to share our dreams and visions and plans for the future on how we will involve everyone."
"I am already encouraged we have a significant majority of people in support of this."
McLeod noted that Swan Lake First Nation Chief Francine Meeches was being presented with, "different opportunities that might be able to enhance and accelerate what she’s doing today."
"Being a smart leader, you have to consider things that might help accelerate the plans she has set out and I look forward to continuing to work with her," McLeod said.
The Brandon Sun requested an interview with Nepinak, but he had not responded to that request by press time.
The last day of the annual general assembly, which coincided with National Aboriginal Day, featured a pipe ceremony that was open to the media, though the debate on casino and gaming issues was not.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 22, 2012