First Nations Casinos in Canada
Seventeen First Nations in Canada have signed agreements with their respective provincial governments that facilitate the operation of casinos on their lands. There is much controversy as to whether the agreements truly benefit First Nations people financially. One thing is for sure, the perception that First Nations peoples benefit individually is mostly false. It does happen but it is rare. When it does happen, there’s still not much to be shared around. The share of gambling revenues to First Nations groups in Canada have and still do vary widely.
Two of the most successful casinos – the Casino Rama and the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino – are worth examining in detail which we will do at a later date. These two First Nations casinos have gained special places in the casino gaming world of Canada and beyond. The St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino has a very interesting and inspiring history.
An Overview of St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino
St. Eugene had the incredible luck of having a large building already available – they just needed to convert it. It started out as a former indigenous school, especially built as a model school. The architect was even specially appointed. There was the painful history of the separation of the indigenous children from their parents at ages as early as 5 years old, sometimes for months on end. Though history was very painful, the tribe managed to turn it to their incredible advantage. It decided to keep and renovate the building. A deliberate change of use transformed the building from the strict and abusive religious institution that it previously was.
The St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino happens to be the only First Nations casino that left us with an incredibly positive impression. Some tribe members have never stepped foot inside the building despite its extraordinary success. One is absolutely smitten by the sheer beauty of the buildings and the expansive gardens of the facility. This, despite the infamous sufferings and abuse of many children under their religious teachers and staff.
Other tribes throughout Canada are clearly not so lucky and lie at the complete opposite ends of the scale. It is sad to observe the simple and underdeveloped or non-existent websites of both the Golden Eagle Charitable Casino & Gaming Centre of Alberta and the Aseneskak Casino of Manitoba.
Extreme Differences between First Nations Casino Success
The First Nations of British Columbia compete with corporation-operated casinos that are typically more famous and successful. This results in their casinos generating the least amount of profits. This is the story of the Aseneskak Casino of Manitoba.
Golden Eagle Charitable Casino & Gaming Centre
The very first Canadian First Nations casino to open its doors in 1994 was the Golden Eagle Charitable Casino & Gaming Centre. The information on the facility is meager at best. All that can be found on the internet is its Golden Eagle Bingo Hall aka ‘Bingo Kenora’ (https://www.bingokenora.com/). There is no information about the casino on the internet. It is referred to on government portals on rare occasions albeit with outdated and non-functioning links!
The governments of these provinces appear to be disingenuous, lack-luster and entirely unconcerned. It gives an impression of a serious lack of professionalism across certain provinces in Canada. Whether this has to do with these casinos being in remote regions is hard to figure out.
Every link to websites of the Golden Eagle Charitable Casino goes to at least two websites that no longer exist. At times, the links appear to be hacked or taken down prematurely. This gives the visitor the impression that the First Nations are not supported nor funded sufficiently by their provinces.
First Encounters of the Lost Kind
Add a little imagination to that mix and an almost darker picture emerges. One of interference, whether deliberate or not. We recalled that dark film, ‘First Encounters of the Fourth Kind’. Faraway lonely communities struggling to survive where mad things happen. Indigenous people disappear and no one cares. The police of these communities also seem undermanned and underfunded. They may be ignored by big government or simply don’t care enough.
Improvements to the conditions under which the indigenous peoples of Canada can successfully conduct their casino gaming businesses, appears to be decades away.
Casinos without proper water and wastewater facilities
The Anishinabe of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation has survived to this day without proper water and wastewater facilities. So it is hard to believe that the tribe even had a casino gaming facility, much less a website. The Kenora city council committee signed a letter of intention in Sept 2018 to supply the First Nation with these services. Incredible, that is all.
Golden Eagle Charitable Casino & Gaming Centre is not to be confused with the Gold Eagle Casino of west central Saskatchewan. The Grand Council of Treaty 3 (GCT3) does have a website at http://gct3.ca. The GCT3 is in fact a political organization representing 24 First Nation communities across Treaty 3 areas of northern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba. An additional 4 First Nations make up the group, specifically in regard to their Treaty rights.
In examining the little information that can be garnered about the tribe, it is certainly challenged. One of their greatest concerns is that of the unsolved deaths of a few of its members. These members, mostly young, are largely found in rivers. It seems that no one comes to justice for these crimes. In addition to this disturbing fact, the encroachment by others on its lands seems to be another huge issue.
Special Case: The Aseneskak Casino of Manitoba
The Aseneskak Casino of Manitoba has been pleading with its province since 2016 to move their casino more towards Winnipeg. Manitoba is already saturated with government-run casinos. However, two years later, it is still located in Opaskwayak.
According to the Aseneskak CEO Suzanne Barbeau Bracegirdle, the Manitoba government is both the casino’s competitor and its regulator. We have come to the conclusion that the First Nations casinos in Canada generally do not have a fair deal. Furthermore, it also appears as though they do not enjoy any privilege when it comes to the business of running casinos. The First Nations generally appear to have been placed on a back-burner that is disadvantageous to them. At the same time, government and other corporations involved in the gaming business are very profitable.
Aseneskak Casino is a 20,000 square foot gaming space located in Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba. It is about 630 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg and about 40 kilometers from the border of Saskatchewan. For such a large area of space, the fact that the Aseneskak Casino has a very poor website speaks volumes.
First Nation Casinos Owned by Several FN Groups
Many First Nations casinos in Canada are more often than not, owned by several tribes together. This fact makes it all the more tragic that a group of First Nations do not have special privileges.
The Aseneskak Casino Cree First Nations
For example, the Aseneskak Casino is owned by a partnership of six Cree First Nations: the Chemawawin, Misipawistik, Mosakahiken, Opaskwayak, Wuskwi Sipihk and the Sapotaweyak. Why then, is the casino struggling? Unless there is much disagreement among them, it doesn’t seem to be the tribes’ failure at all.
The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA)
SIGA is a model that is as close as it gets to the American system of indigenous Indian gaming. SIGA casinos are successful and entertain over 4.5 million guests annually. More than 60 % of its employees are First Nations people.
SIGA is the operator of six First Nations casinos in Saskatchewan. The casinos are the Bear Claw Casino & Hotel, Dakota Dunes Casino, Gold Eagle Casino, Living Sky Casino, Northern Lights Casino and the Painted Hand Casino. Each casino is run by its respective First Nations tribe. These are the White Bear, Whitecap Dakota, Mosquito, Nekaneet, Peter Ballantyne and the Kahkewistahaw First Nations respectively.
SIGA ranks in Saskatchewan’s top 25 companies. Its group of casinos are also consistent in their standards across the board. They also have websites that are pretty much standardized.
First Nation gaming is an important opportunity to stimulate economic development, create jobs, and provide funding for infrastructure and social programs. The First Nation tribes of Canada unfortunately do not enjoy any advantage in the scheme of what they have lost over the hundreds of years of colonial suppression. It cannot be said that the government of Canada is paying any special reparations to the First Nations as they deserve. If it is, it is not obvious at all.
It would be good to see some considerable improvements to the majority of First Nation casinos across Canada. They must at the very least, meet up to the minimum standards of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. It is quite clear that the First Nations people cannot do it alone and without the fair support of the government. It is the very least that the First Nations peoples all deserve.