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Casino Employment On Track

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      DECEMBER 1996      v26 n01 p28  
When the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) opened its first two casinos in North Battleford and Prince Albert, they were paving the road to a new industry. Many Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan had never held a job in the hospitality industry and, as a result, the workforce from which SIGA officials had to draw was relatively unskilled.

SIGA began the daunting task of training casino staff in November of 1995 to prepare for the openings of the North Battleford Gold Eagle Casino and the Prince Albert Northern Lights Casino in early March, 1996. This tradition continues as staff is now being trained for Yorkton's Painted Hand Casino and training was recently completed for White Bear First Nation's Bear Claw Casino.

Milton Tootoosis, Chief of Human Resources, estimates the current number of employees within SIGA at over 400. Of these approximately 70 per cent are Aboriginal. In addition, SIGA believes that it supports several hundred employees in the spin-off industries such as contractors and suppliers.

In cases where SIGA has hired non-Aboriginal people because of experience, they generally have Aboriginal assistants in a type of informal mentorship program. Tootoosis says that the casinos have been "about giving people a chance."

SIGA has worked with the Saskatchewan Tourism Education Council (STEC) to develop the hospitality training required for most casino positions. Most employees receive about 30 hours of training in hospitality and an additional two weeks of job-readiness training, bringing the total to approximately 90 hours.

"The extensive training helps overcome the barriers caused by hiring people who are basically inexperienced," he says. "It comes with kick-starting a new industry."

SIGA is striving to be a proactive employer. As part of the Human Resources Program, employees have access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP gives employees the opportunity to receive counselling, should they require it. Ben Weenie, the sole program coordinator, helps employees address basic issues that are affecting them and their work. He is currently working out of the SIGA Head Office.

The allure of Aboriginal employment with SIGA is largely due to pride in ownership. Aboriginal people may again take pride in the opening of the Bear Claw Casino on the White Bear First Nation Reserve on Tuesday, November 12, 1996. The Painted Hand Casino in Yorkton is slated to open its doors on December 14, 1996.