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In typical Spring fashion, June 17 was interspersed with showers and sunshine. Alongside the Amphitheatre at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, the Sturgeon Lake Singers sheltered inside a tipi, happily making music as a gentle rain fell outside.
As Senator Ernest Mike, FSIN Chief Roland Crowe, Hon. Eldon Lautermilch, minister responsible for Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, their families and attending dignitaries made their way to the outdoor Amphitheatre, the sun came out in all its splendour and smiled upon the event.
It was indeed a joyous occasion for Chief Roland Crowe, who had worked long and hard to make this day happen. Before the gathered audience, Chief Crowe and the Hon. Eldon Lautermilch signed an historic agreement on casino development in the province.
"This signing signifies a willingness to work together," said Chief Crowe. "We talk about the progress made in the last few months, and this does not resolve all the issues, but when we look at the situation our people are in, we see that opportunities are few and far between. With this agreement, we have stopped and thought about those who are not so fortunate. With this agreement we can offer a dream and light at the end of the tunnel."
The dream, for so long denied First Nations people, the opportunity to enter a training program and at the end of it be assured of a job, says Chief Crowe, is the dream that has maintained him during the long struggle to see this development take place.
Some may feel, he says, that he has a fixation with casinos. but there are few other project possibilities for Saskatchewan that provide such a catalyst for industry and job creation.
From top executives to parking valets, there will be many jobs to fill, for all levels of ability, training and education.
"This agreement is the first of its kind in Canada, where First Nations and government have come to a conclusion on sharing of revenue from full-fledged casinos. This is not the kind of agreement we're used to seeing in Canada." - Chief Roland Crowe And with the structure that has been agreed upon, First Nations will have the opportunity to take leadership roles and to flourish financially alongside the non-Indian participants.
Chief Crowe has a vision of First Nations people living in a province where they have jobs, decent living accommodation, pride in what they do and a feeling of ownership in the whole process. And that can begin to happen now, he says.
Chief Crowe gives much credit to the premier and his cabinet and especially to Eldon Lautermilch for their part in facilitating the process. "There were difficult times," he concedes, but we decided we'd be honest and up-front and make a sincere commitment to those who need us, so that with drive and integrity, we can make this a better place for all of us."
"As First Nations, we want to be part of a strong and vibrant economy, and to have an equal opportunity at a better life. We look forward to a continued sharing and working together." said Chief Crowe to those assembled in the Amphitheatre. The Hon. Lautermilch voiced parallel sentiments. "For me this is a special day," he said, "I take a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that we were able to work together an put together one of the most significant signing agreements in the history of Canada."
This is the first time, he said, that government and First Nations have been able to formalize a real and true partnership and that is a very concrete recognition of First Nations' right to self determination and self-government.
There is no doubt, he said, that without the leadership and courage of Chief Roland Crowe, it would not have been possible. And this agreement, he says, will lead to the culmination agreements between government and First Nations. "This is only the beginning".