The grand opening of the Chances Gaming Centre in Chilliwack was a celebratory moment for Great Canadian Gaming, city hall, slot machine fans and charities who rely on gaming funds.
Local First Nations leaders, however, were not impressed, although opening day wasn't even the real insult.
"When they broke ground, that was the commencement of our frustration," Sto: lo Grand Chief Joe Hall, president of the Sto: lo Nation, told the Times.
In a Nov. 9 letter Hall penned to Premier Christy Clark, he expressed the First Nations' frustration with "unlawful and discriminatory practices with respect to gaming."
Hall's letter was triggered by a proposed $100-million gambling complex in South Surrey on unceded Semiahmoo First Nation territory.
"Untenured direct award licences have been issued and are currently being issued for gaming on the doorstep of several First Nation reserves, all without consultation and without accommodation," says the letter. "This conduct is not only immoral but is illegal."
Hall told the Times Friday he had not received a response from Clark's office.
This isn't the first time Hall has written to the provincial government. In 2009 he sent a letter to the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) demanding that Sto: lo Nation leaders be consulted with regard to what was at the time Chilliwack Bingo's application for the community gaming centre.
"The decision to pursue a gaming facility on the site was made without the consent of and without consultation with the Sto: lo," the 2009 letter signed by Hall said. "While the proposal will benefit the Crown and non-First Nation organizations and entities, the Sto: lo will see no benefit from the centre."
The location at 46125 Olds Rd. is close to reserve lands of the Tzeachten, Skowkale and Yakweakwioose First Nations.
"In fact, the site was formerly situated on a reserve of these First Nations, and this reserve was unlawfully reduced in the 1860s," Hall said.
In his Nov. 9 letter, Hall expressed anger that B.C. First Nations are left out of gaming revenue sharing as the Liberal government continues gaming expansion.
Hall said they tried to negotiate with the provincial government with no success. He called the provincial government's failure on this file "absolute."
"The kind of foolishness that has been going through the front door with BCLC is stuff nobody else in the world would put up with," he said.
Hall's letter was penned in his role as chair of the First Nations Gaming Initiative. In the letter he announced the creation of the First Nations Gaming Commission, a body that would regulate casinos.
Hall said they will proceed cautiously and carefully so that if and when they are challenged in court by the province, the courts will see they proceeded in good faith and were rebuffed at every turn.
"If we are going to get challenged in court, the court can see the efforts we made going through the front door and come to the conclusion [the government] would never agree to allow gaming facilities. . . . What the courts are looking for is an organized body that is going to regulate."
Hall said First Nations were looking for approximately three per cent of the share of gaming revenue.
So should we expect to see casinos on reserve, maybe in Sto: lo territory?
"That's exactly where we are going," Hall said. While nothing is formally in the works, the Squiala development plan from 2007 included the opportunity for a 150-plus room hotel with convention centre in the Eagle Landing area.
"This development concept also lends itself to creating a 'resort' environment at the site," the plan said.
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