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This article was published 6/7/2020 (310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
First Nations leaders gave Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister a tongue-lashing Monday, accusing him of paternalism, anger and underlying issues with Indigenous people, and allowing systemic racism to continue.
"He’s using that office to work against Indigenous economic projects," Dennis Meeches, Long Plain First Nation Chief and Treaty 1 spokesman, said at a news conference Monday outside the Peguis Building on Portage Avenue.
Pallister is overstepping his jurisdiction by threatening First Nations their video lottery terminal agreements would be terminated if they didn’t agree in writing to enforce a smoking ban, said Meeches, who was flanked by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, Brokenhead Ojibway Chief Deborah Smith and Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson.
"Whenever we want to do land transfers or something innovative in this province, the systemic racism rears its head and tries to cause complications," said Dumas.
The chiefs listed other examples: Pallister telling a First Nation not to have a powwow during COVID-19; telling First Nations cannabis retailers they have to charge a provincial "social responsibility fee" (which amounts to a tax); singling out First Nations gaming sites in the Phase 3 pandemic recovery reopening plans.
The only gaming facilities that allow smoking are run by First Nations; only non-smoking sites have been allowed to reopen.
"It’s, ‘If you don’t play ball, we’re shutting your economies down,’" said Meeches. "It’s really strong-arming First Nation governments."
The revenue from VLTs and gaming on First Nations pay for things such as funerals for elders and recreation for youth, said Hudson, whose entrepreneurial First Nation raised an estimated $40 million in own-source revenue last year.
"They have no right to take away our right to generate those revenues," he said, adding Treaty 1 businesses bring $9.3 billion to the province and more than $3 billion to Winnipeg and area. The group is developing the former Kapyong barracks site in southwest Winnipeg.
"There’s an opportunity here for the premier to engage, but it’s not happened," said Meeches.
A spokeswoman for the Manitoba premier dismissed the complaints, saying the VLTs and smoking situation is "simply about public health" and "the government continues to achieve tangible results by working together with Indigenous leaders and communities."
She gave the example of Pallister and Dumas taking a "critical step towards reconciliation" by signing a memorandum of understanding that begins the process of establishing a Manitoba First Nations Airport Authority.
However, Dumas said Monday that Manitoba First Nations may have to "reconsider" such arrangements with the province.
"We’ve come to those conversations as a meaningful partner," he said. "If the relationship is not going to be respected, maybe we need to reconsider those conversations.
"When First Nations do well, everyone around us does well."
In February, Dumas credited "constructive dialogue" with the province for a deal that would see First Nations take over ownership of 23 northern airports. He said he has since soured on working with Pallister for using the pandemic to usurp First Nations sovereignty and jurisdiction.
Instead of working with them, Pallister is talking at them, Dumas said.
"I think this (VLT) move by the Pallister government is very opportunistic and it’s deceitful," he said. "The issue is about jurisdiction, not smoking."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.