Band Claims Right to Run Casino

R. Stewart

The Beecher Bay Band will gamble in court that it has the right to build a casino on reserve land between Metchosin and East Sooke.

Band lawyer Rory Morahan recently said that bylaws covering gaming were submitted to the minister of Indian affairs in 1995. Under Indian Act
provisions, unless the minister specifically rejects bylaws submitted to him within 40 days, they go into force, Morahan said.

That means the band has had the right to govern gaming on its reserve since 1995 and the province’s rejection last week of a band application for
a gaming license was irrelevant, Morahan suggested. He’ll take that argument to either the Federal Court or the B.C. Supreme Court within a month.

“I estimate we’ll be filing within a month to six weeks and we could see a decision within about six to eight months…A lot of this is affidavit evidence — this is a document case — and those kind of cases can proceed fairly quickly.”

Band representative Pat Chipps said all the documentation is ready to go. “This is plan A for us, not plan B — this is the way we intended to go
originally, so the research has already been done,” Chipps said. “We think we have been very politically correct in this by trying to work cooperatively with the province. But this is economically very important to us, so we are going ahead.”

Morahan said he plans to introduce evidence that gambling is a long-held cultural tradition among the Coast Salish.

Linda VanderBerg, a cultural anthropologist who works extensively on behalf of First Nations in B.C., said the tradition of gambling goes back
thousands of years and that artifacts of s’lahal — or bone games — are often found in archeological digs.

“Blankets, copper, any number of things considered valuable would change hands,” she said. “There was even one Clallum chief (from Washington State) who lost his wife in one of the bones games, so the stakes could get pretty high.”

Band chief Burt Charles displayed his modern bone-game implements, made from wood and deer horn. Bands would gamble for blankets made from
mountain-sheep wool or other goods, though now cash changes hands, he said. Traditional tokens would have been made from whale bones, VanderBerg said.

Morahan stressed that the major goal of the casino proposal was to provide jobs and economic benefits for the Beecher Bay Band. But the economic spin-off would also benefit neighboring communities, he said.

“Portions of the revenue from the gaming would be set aside to pay for things like improving the infrastructure and the roads and so on,” he
said. And with 200 to 1,000 jobs expected as the project builds to completion, there would also be work for people outside the band, which has
fewer than 200 members, he said.

Chipps said the band would meet today with other First Nations to try to arrange joint funding for the court process. But Morahan said the legal gambit would continue even without support of other First Nations.