KENORA – Indigenous Business – Wauzhushk Onigum Nation (WON) has initiated legal action against the Ontario Government (Ontario), the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and Gateway Casinos, after being unjustly left out of casino gaming in the Kenora area. The hearing will take place from April 8 to 11, 2018, in the Divisional Court in Toronto.
WON had the first ever charitable casino in Ontario – Golden Eagle, established in 1993. Golden Eagle operated for 10 years until Ontario took away its license.
WON spent the next many years trying to get the license back and to have the facility expanded into a full casino with slots. It was forced to jump through hoop after hoop and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, meeting the ever-changing demands and political whims of Ontario and OLG, who kept arbitrarily and unilaterally moving the goalposts.
The effect has been an outright denial of justice to WON. The income and hundreds of jobs that Golden Eagle had provided, were required to alleviate poverty and provide for necessities of life. And running this enterprise facilitated self-determination and First Nation gaming rights.
“This was and is a case of bullying, of perpetuating rather than undoing colonialism,” says Chief Chris Skead. “Ontario and OLG had all the power, and wielded it to deny us, for no good reason.”
After being forced through years of this unjust process, and at the moment when Ontario and OLG finally seemed ready to reissue the casino license to Golden Eagle in 2011, Ontario and OLG unilaterally pulled the plug. They terminated the engagement with WON. Without any notice, they imposed a public RFP process that effectively made it impossible for anyone other than big gaming consortia to bid, and in which no requirements for partnering with or accommodating local First Nations were included.
Gateway Casinos won the bid. WON made many efforts to engage with Gateway, including undertaking major infrastructure improvements on the reserve so that a first-rate casino complex could be located there, along the waterfront. Gateway also shut out WON. “Now there will be no casino in the Kenora area with local control and nothing that involves or benefits the First Nation,” says the Chief.
“We tried everything, over many years, to work with these parties. The decision to pursue legal action was a difficult one, but it became our only option after exhausting all our efforts to achieve justice at the table. The table was set by Ontario and OLG, who then handed a lot of control over to Gateway. They have denied us a seat and relegated us, again, to the outside,” says the Chief.
“It’s a punch in the face”, says Pat Brett, manager of Golden Eagle. “We did all the work, built the business case, and are now threatened to be left with nothing. That should change if we win this case.”
The First Nation’s court proceeding seeks to quash the award of the contract to Gateway and the RFP process that led to it.
The Chief and Council are encouraged by the words of Indigenous Affairs Minister, and Kenora area MPP Greg Rickford, who in a recent statement made it clear that: “The economic gap faced by many Indigenous communities is unacceptable. That’s why closing these gaps for good is so important – not only for the communities themselves, but for everyone in Ontario. When Indigenous people prosper, we all prosper.”
“These are good words”, says the Chief. “But action is what we need. WON has been forced to take action itself, in court. WON calls on the Ontario Government and its Crown corporation, OLG, to right the wrongs and stand behind our First Nation’s efforts to close those economic gaps and in turn make a positive contribution to the prosperity of our Nation, Kenora and Northwestern Ontario.”