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The Special Council Meeting had been called to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Saskatoon's south downtown and the inclusion of a farmer's market, casino, trade offices and convention centre. But there was some question as to whether the city indeed wanted a casino anywhere in the city.
More than 15 people took the podium; some stating that gambling should not be allowed in any form, others supporting the development so long as tax dollars are not spent on operating costs, while several business people pointed out the economic benefits of the development as a whole.
There was also some confusion over the First Nations agreement with the Saskatchewan Government. Councillor Hawthorne said he was under the impression that the percentage sharing of the casinos profits between the different groups was already decided.
"To my knowledge that has not been resolved and we're sure trying" said Chief Crowe,
Earlier in his presentation, he had pointed out that "almost a couple of years ago, when the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations talked about casinos and gaming, we entered into an understanding and a partnership with the Government of Saskatchewan that we are somewhat proud of, only in this province, but across the country, which I think could eventually lead to a model where people can understand and share. And we are a very caring and sharing society. We have no intentions of having opportunities only for our people, much as we need them. We are prepared to share those opportunities."
Although he didn't in any way present it as a threat, Chief Crowe also firmly stated, "..that although Saskatoon is a desirable location, that does not exclude the possibility of locating the casino in another city."
Chief Crowe also addressed the moral issue. "I know that when we talk about social problems, many people want to advise us on what is right and what is wrong. I take that with the utmost respect. But I think, in 1994, after we as First Nations have waited many years for a sharing opportunity, and economic and employment opportunities, we are taking a lead role and we want to be part and parcel of such a beautiful province and society."
Chief Crowe agreed - that there may be social problems attached to operating casinos, but having listened in the past to others on how to live, he said, "We need to start making decisions for ourselves... I say that as we live those problems, we know and understand them probably better that anyone else."
Present problems, said Chief Crowe, translate into an unemployment rate of 90 to 95 percent among First Nation communities, while opportunities pass them by.
That is what he wants to see reversed; to exchange drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and not wanting to live for a promise of jobs and a better tomorrow.
Pragmatically, he also pointed "out the hundreds of thousands and perhaps million of dollars could be saved in welfare and correctional costs, if the opportunities were there.
He questioned the present criticism of First Nations casinos, when there has been no criticism of the casinos already existing in Saskatchewan cities. If there is reluctance to share with First Nations, he suggested, perhaps some thought should be given to how First Nations people shared this country in the late 1800's and early 1900's - in fact 98.5 percent of the entire land base.
"We don't ask for that back." he said. "We ask for an understanding, respect, an ability- to be able to earn for our children and grandchildren."
"Quite frankly, I get a bit confused sometimes, " said Chief Crowe. ... "We are criticized about welfare and we are criticized about unemployment and now we are being criticized for creating opportunities. If someone has a better solution than I have, I ask for that answer."
However, he did say, later in the debate, that sometimes we hear a very noisy opposition to certain things and many times don't hear the silent majority that is very much in support.
Chief Crowe also pointed out the significance of delay in light of Federal off loading and the resulting burden the province could bear in welfare payments to First Nations members living off the reserve.
Moreover, studies show, he says, that every month of delay in building a casino costs $10 million in unearned revenues and taxes and lost employment. The casino would generate 800-900 full-time jobs in the city.
Those employment benefits, he says, would not only go to one First Nation, but would be shared across the province. "We don't want to be criticized anymore. We want to work with you, I ask you to work with us, share with us our dreams and our aspirations. Share with us the opportunities so our children don't have to want not to live anymore," said Chief Crowe.
The debate throughout the evening was at times heated, but the final outcome was overwhelming City Council support for the proposal in principle, including a casino.