Indigenous Canadian resistance to Ontario iGaming also includes Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations and Shawanaga First Nations

First Nations Resistance To Ontario Privatized Online Gambling Continues To Mount

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (MCK) has joined Six Nations of the Grand River (SNGR) in a mutual cooperation agreement on gaming. This cooperation comes just five weeks beforeOntario is to launch its iGaming market.

The province has given a target date of Apr. 4 for private sector operators to begin launching legally. First Nations groups have harshly criticized their exclusion from the market.

Online gambling is of particular importance to MCK. The First Nation has its own gaming operator, Mohawk Online, and regulatory authority, the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission (KGC).

Sports Interaction (SIA) is a sportsbook and online casino brand which operates in partnership with Mohawk Online, and is regulated by KGC. It’s in the process of being acquired by European online gambling giant Entain.

SIA won’t apply to AGCO for access to the Ontario online gambling market. Entain says it will respecting KGC’s authority and has released a statement of support for the First Nation:

“In line with economic principles adopted by Canada under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mohawk Online revenues are invested back into the community of Kahnawà:ke to provide essential funding for cultural and language programmes, schools, healthcare and other public services. 50% of Avid Gaming employees in Kahnawà:ke are Mohawk, and in 2020 Mohawk Online revenues played a vital role in Kahnawà:ke’s Covid 19 relief efforts.”

A united front

The MCK and SNGR agreement includes mutual acknowledgement of each group’s gaming regulatory bodies. It also identifies the potential for mutually beneficial opportunities in the iGaming industry. A press release by SNGR states:

“By virtue of the Agreement, both parties affirm their mutual commitment to defend, by any means possible, our Indigenous jurisdiction over gaming, and the socio-economic benefits our communities would derive therein.”

A joint statement, included in the press release, expresses the groups’ frustration with the Ontario provincial government. However, it does so without naming it directly:

“Nonetheless, the external Governments ongoing failure to accommodate the interests of First Nations will not delay advancement for Six Nations of the Grand River and Kahnawà:ke. Today, together, we affirm that we will work collaboratively to take all actions necessary to protect and defend our inherent rights to gaming. We will continue to advocate for the advancement of our self-determination without the constant interference of the Canadian and provincial governments. It is optimal for us to achieve this through dialogue and cooperation and to date we, in good faith, have continued to keep that opportunity open.”

MCK and SNGR aren’t fighting alone

These aren’t the only First Nations groups to take issue with Ontario’s plans, either.

Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations (MSIFN) and Shawanaga First Nations (SFN) have already raised the alarm on the province’s legal oversights and denial of both federal and provincial laws and treaties.

Chief Kelly LaRocca of MSIFN has released statements to this effect. She notes the Ford government’s failure to uphold Section 35 Canadian Constitution. This supports First Nations access to cultural, political, and social practices.

Gaming in the First Nation long predates the beginning of colonization. The government has failed to consult First Nations on their own gaming or betting practices. In doing so, it has failed to affirm their constitutional rights, according to Chief LaRocca.

Shawanaga First Nation Chief Adam Pawis has met with the Ontario government. Chief Pawis says that the lack of First Nations involvement is a direct violation of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.

The treaty in question allows the province of Ontario to conduct business on unceded land. In exchange, the province agreed supply the First Nations with a percentage of its revenue. However, in failing to anticipate the possibility of online gambling, it leaves the government what seems like a cruel loophole. Here, too, First Nations were not consulted on how to amend the agreement in a mutually agreeable fashion.

Partnership could include other First Nations

In their joint press release, MCK and SNGR extended their hand to other Indigenous communities:

“Additionally, both communities will begin collaborative work on legal, political and public relation strategies to defend their respective jurisdictions and interests in the gaming industry. They will extend opportunity for other Indigenous communities across Turtle Island to join in this collaboration, and will also begin development on a national body of Indigenous gaming regulators.”

It would not be surprising to see more First Nations join or collaborate on these iGaming efforts.

They have five weeks to either stop Ontario’s iGaming launch or persuade the province to sit down and involve First Nations. The second option may be getting more likely with First Nations presenting this united front. The alternative, of course, will be a long and costly legal battle.

- Katy Jean is a columnist and freelance writer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her writing has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and Canadian politics. She is most active from her Twitter account @katynotie.
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