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Bear Claw Casino To Open February 26

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1993      v22 n02 p01  
WHITE BEAR - Located in the south east comer of Saskatchewan, near the Moose Mountain Provincial Park, White Bear First Nation is the focus of much attention these past few weeks since the Chief Bernard Shepherd announced that the Band is going to open a casino, in direct contravention of provincial regulation. The First Nation plans to test the laws concerning the operation of a gaming outlet on reserve land, with the argument that only the First Nation government has jurisdiction there and that the First Nation need not apply to the provincial government for a permit.

The provincial government contends that gambling and the operation of gaming outlets falls under the jurisdiction of the province, and under the Minister of Finance, Janice MacKinnon; and therefore, revenues derived from the operation of the casino should be directed into the public purse.

Chief Shepherd, along with Chief Roland Crowe of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, rejects that idea. "The issue is not about gaming, it is about jurisdiction," Chief Shepherd states. The chiefs contend that First Nations have the right to set up casinos on their reserves without the approval of provincial governments; that this right is clearly within the jurisdiction of First Nations' governments. Chief Shepherd contends that if the provincial government supports the idea of self-government, they should recognize the treaty and constitutional right of the band to exercise jurisdiction over this matter, and

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Bear Claw Casino To Open February 26

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1993      v22 n02 p02  
WhiteBear Claw Casino to Open February 26

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further, the province has no business getting involved in this matter.

Chief Shepherd maintains that the revenue made from gambling will go back into the reserve for education, health and further economic development. The province's position, as stated by Janice MacKinnon, is that it would be irresponsible for government to turn control over gambling revenues over to Aboriginal organizations and lose control over the revenues and expansion of gaming. With a provincial budget on the horizon and expenses for government programs increasing daily, the province must find new ways to gain revenue. However, what the provincial government fails to realize is that the casino will give the First Nation the opportunity to raise their own revenues to run their own economy. As Chief Shepherd suggests, they can better decide where the money is most needed, and determine their own needs for programs and services.

Having been dependent upon government in the past, the White Bear First Nation has never had complete freedom to address the areas of concern and this has resulted in a wide variety of social deterioration on the reserve. More than 90% of band members are unemployed. Reserve housing and living conditions are concerns to be addressed and Chief Shepherd contends that this is reason enough for the band to start a casino. "White Bear Band wants to open a casino to create employment not to create conflict," Chief Shepherd said.

The idea is further supported by non-Native businessmen in the area, who had nothing, but positive things to say about the casino and the favourable economic impact it would have in the area.

White Bear First Nation has already shown resourcefulness in their investments. The band recent re-invested into their successful 9 Hole golf course, making it an 18 Hole course. The golf course was one of the top 9 hole golf courses in Saskatchewan in 1992 and the future looks bright. Like the nearby provincial part, White Bear relies on tourists and fishermen for revenue for the community. The band also leases land to a number of interests who in turn rent cabins to tourists. The enterprise used to bring in one million dollars annually into the area, a large percentage of which went to the Band. In 1992, however, the water in White Bear Lake declined substantially, reducing the number of tourists. This gave the local businesses and the Band a record loss.

Inspiration for his initiative into gambling came after Chief Bernard Shepherd heard Ovide Mercredi, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, speak out about the failure of the Charlottetown Accord and his resolve to no longer allow key issues affecting the Indian community to be left for future generations to deal with. As Chief Shepherd states, "give us the chance and we'll address the problems on the reserve." Most importantly, perhaps, by regaining control of revenues and the local economy, the White Bear First Nation will regain their self-respect and dignity, by employing their own people and putting the money back into the reserve.

According to Chief Shepherd, if anyone wants to invest in the casino venture, they can do so. "If the province wants a share of the revenue they will have to invest in the business." He further states that "we do not intend to violate any criminal codes or jurisdictions. We want a peaceful solution." The provincial government has stated that it wants to resolve the situation and Chief Shepherd recently stated, "if there is a bit of political will out there, something can be worked out." Nevertheless, the RCMP are prepared to take action to close the casino when it opens. Many visitors, Chiefs, FSIN executive and staff and media, gathered at White Bear Reserve for the anticipated opening of the casino on February 19, however, the event was postponed due to a snowstorm in the United States which delayed the delivery of the equipment; card tables, slot machines and $40,000 worth of coins. The delay may yet allow a solution to be negotiated between the parties interested. In the meantime, Chief Shepherd has rescheduled the opening to February 26.