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On the fringes.

The Pequot tribe in Connecticut scored big and many Canadian bands are hoping to do the same. The Pequot own the Foxwoods High Stakes Bingo & Casino. Open round the clock, Foxwoods attracts 40,000 gamblers a day who shove $7 million into the slot machines alone every 24 hours. The profits, a carefully guarded secret, have been estimated at $600 million a year. Today, among the Pequots there is no unemployment. The casino pays out a quarter of a billion dollars annually in wages, mostly to nonnatives, and has become the state of Connecticut's second largest revenue supplier after the federal government.

So, it's not surprising that visions of building "Foxwoods North" have been floating in the heads of many band chiefs in Canada. Four Native-run casinos have been approved in Saskatchewan. The Chippewas of the Rama First Nation, near Orillia, Ontario have been given the go-ahead to build their gaming palace. The Chippewas will not be banking a bazillion dollars though; profits from their casino will be shared among all the province's Native people.

There are those who say the provinces have no right to regulate which reserves can and cannot open casinos. Among them is Chief Lawrence Henry of the Roseau River First Nations in Manitoba. He hoped to exploit a federal-provincial tangle over jurisdiction. Native people are a federal responsibility; lotteries and gaming are controlled by the provinces. But, the Manitoba government didn't seem to be in any doubt about who's in charge. In January 1993, the RCMP swooped on five Manitoba Indian reserves and seized slot machines, blackjack tables, and other gambling equipment.

Terry Nelson, one of the people involved in setting up Roseau River's casino remained defiant: "We view ourselves as sovereign," he told the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. "We have never assumed the Canadian Criminal Code. We have never assumed your Constitution. There is no Canadian court that will decide what the sovereign rights at Roseau are."

The other side of the argument says that if there's no control, we might end up with the chaos they've had in Colorado. Gambling was first allowed in that state in 1991 and it was thrown wide open; anyone could start a casino. By the middle of 1994, of the 96 gaming houses that opened, 39 had already closed.

Many Native people continue to see gambling as a way of kick-starting the depressed economies of reserves. The idea is that gambling revenue could be used as seed money to set up more stable economic development and so reduce the dependence of Native people on government handouts.

While some hope to become rich from gambling, others have already made bundles out of another human vice -- smoking. This is particularly true for Mohawks in Ontario and Quebec whose reserves straddle the Canada-U.S. border. Indians have long claimed the right to cross the border between the two countries without having to go through any immigration or customs formalities. This gave rise to a highly profitable trade in cigarettes. Smokes could be bought cheaply in the United States where taxes on them are low. Taken across the border, the cigarettes were then sold in Canada, where they were very highly taxed, at below their normal price. Police said the trade was worth $75 million a year to the reserves around Cornwall, Ontario. One of five groups involved was said to be moving 2,000 cases of cigarettes and tobacco a week through the Akwesasne Reserve.

To some, the tobacco trade is not illegal at all. Ron George supports this view. Until recently, Mr. George was head of the Native Council of Canada, a group that represents non-status Indians. He says that tobacco is not smuggled through reserves; it's an industry that is protected by treaties that uphold the right of Natives to transport goods across the Canada-U.S. border.

The Canadian justice system begs to differ. In several cases, courts have ruled that the tobacco trade is nothing more nor less than smuggling and, as such, is illegal. Ruling on it is one thing, enforcing that ruling is something else. Canadian authorities were finding it next to impossible to control the cross-border commerce. So, in 1994, the federal and provincial governments blew huge holes in the tobacco business by cutting the excise tax.

By lowering the legal price charged for cigarettes, the government took the profit out of the illegal trade. But, this has created a new problem. The smugglers just turned to other products and are said to be doing a lucrative business in drugs, alcohol, and guns. Unconfirmed reports say televisions, appliances, and illegal immigrants are also being transported along the smuggling routes. The RCMP has already arrested several people from the Six Nations and Akwesasne Reserves on charges of trafficking in restricted weapons.

Of course, most reserves are not earning money by being on the fringes of the law. The Indian band in Kamloops, B.C. operates an industrial business park. Its 200 tenants, most of them no-native, pay about $800,000 a year to the band in property taxes. Potentially, there's a greater income. Those 200 businesses pay about $18 million a year in provincial and federal income taxes. Chief Manny Jules has his eye on that money; he argues that under self-government all that tax revenue should go directly to his band.


1. Mark Maracle, is a member of the Warrior Society on Ontario's Six Nations Reserve. He says that Indians must wage economic war against white people to get back the money they lost when Europeans "stole" Indian land. Discuss.

2. Casino gambling only works for those reserves that are geographically blessed; that is those located near large population centres. Do you think these reserves should be required to share the benefits they get from gambling with more remote reserves?


In 1988, Ottawa passed a law allowing Native governments to collect property taxes from non-natives leasing land on reserves; in 1994, 42 Indian bands collected property taxes worth about $12 million.
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Title Annotation:Native People - Economics; gambling is the most used way to develop economies of Native Americans in Canada; payment of taxes
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Previous Article:Boredom.
Next Article:The warriors.

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