Now’s an opportune time for the federal government to affirm First Nations’ rights to control gaming activities.
That’s according to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — a sentiment echoed by Waywayseecappo First Nation Chief Murray Clearsky.
In response to an Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs release on the subject, Clearsky said "I’m on the same page."
"I think it should have been left the way it was. First Nations have full authority over their own community, and gaming and whatever else," he said.
Clearsky is a long-time advocate for First Nations’ right to self-determination and has gone on the record blaming the Indian Act and other governmental authorities for stifling First Nations’ economic growth.
"Look at the American communities — they have full gaming authority in their communities, and it’s up to them to do whatever they want to give back to the counties," he said. "They get along quite fine — it goes both ways."
It’s not only First Nations people who use these facilities, he added.
"Everybody’s money is the same. It’s business."
This long-simmering issue returned to the foreground late last week in response to federal Justice Minister David Lametti proposing legislative amendments to the Criminal Code to permit provinces and territories to regulate and license single-event sport betting on any sporting event except horse racing.
In a release, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the proposal "comes at an opportune time for the First Nations in Manitoba, who have an inherent right and critical role to play in the regulation of the gaming industry in Manitoba."
First Nations in Manitoba have always asserted a right to gaming, and now’s a good time for the Criminal Code to reflect this, he said.
As it stands, the Criminal Code clarifies that provincial governments have full authority to "conduct and manage" gaming and betting in Canada.
"Canada already knows what the position is of First Nations leadership in Manitoba: amend the Criminal Code to remove the role of the province when it comes to First Nations gaming," Dumas said, advocating for a "expeditious engagement and consultation process with First Nations in Manitoba."
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jennifer Bone said that she’d "definitely" review her community’s gaming pursuits if they were afforded control.
A meeting with Manitoba Lottery officials approximately one year ago to discuss gaming opportunities revealed they were not approving any new sites at that time because they were waiting on a gaming review.
As far as she has heard, the review is ongoing.
Whether it’s the provincial review or discussions with the federal government regarding Criminal Code changes, Bone said Indigenous voices need to be heard.
"I definitely look forward to seeing what the outcome of these discussions will be," she said.
Clearsky said that if the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ effort were successful, his community would pursue whatever new gaming options opened up — "for sure."
The same applies to any potential economic driver, he said.
"We need something in our area — our local towns can’t give us everything," he said.
Earlier this year, Waywayseecappo opened a new gas bar along Highway 10 north of the Trans-Canada Highway and south of the Brandon Municipal Airport.
The new business is part of a 535-acre addition to reserve shared with Rolling River First Nation and Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, and marked the beginning of a larger potential development.
Depending on how gaming rights advocacy goes, Clearsky said some kind of gaming centre "could be" a potential for this land.
In the lead-up to the Sand Hills Casino project’s construction near Carberry, Clearsky was an outspoken advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to abandon that plan and instead build one closer to Brandon. The Sand Hills Casino ended up opening in 2014 and has posted at least four consecutive losses since that time.
A few years prior to that, Waywayseecappo joined Keeseekoowenin and Rolling River in getting the go-ahead from the province for a mid-sized casino north of Brandon city limits, but this effort derailed as a result of a profit-sharing arrangement dispute.
Neither Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa Conservative MP Dan Mazier nor Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire were available for comment during the weekend with respect to this story.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB