Mississauga of Scugog Island First Nations (MSIFN) will be entering mediation and seeking relief with the Ontario government. This comes after the province opened new gaming facilities near the MSIFN-owned Blue Heron Casino without consultation as well as claims of agreement violations, bad faith negotiations, and failures to provide consultation related to gaming.
In a press release, Chief Kelly LaRocca said:
Since meeting with senior government officials three years ago, we have welcomed the opportunity to settle our concerns with the province. We see a glimmer of hope now that they have agreed to mediation.
MSIFN has previously warned the province that they consider it to be in violation of its commitments.
MSIFN Chief LaRocca Calls Ontario Decisions Unconstitutional
This is not the first time this year Chief LaRocca has made a statement regarding the Ford government and its approach to gambling.
April 4 marked the launch of privatized online gambling sites in Ontario. The province has created a regulated market for private sector operators in the hopes of capturing gray market players.
In a January 2022 statement, Chief LaRocca said:
The government completely and utterly failed to consult our First Nation – leaving their iGaming launch open to constitutional challenge. We intend to challenge the province’s iGaming scheme in court.
The constitutional rights he’s referring to are Sections 25 and 35 of the Canadian Constitution. These recognize and affirm the existing rights of First Nations people, including their cultural, political, and social practices. Groups like MSIFN interpret this to include gambling, which has a long history in pre-colonial First Nations cultures.
Robinson Huron Treaty Case Headed to Supreme Court
Ontario faces another battle related to those constitutional rights. The Robinson Huron Treaty was signed in 1850 by the Ontario government and 21 Anishinaabe bands. According to the Treaty, the province may use resources on Anishinaabe territory in exchange for an annuity. However, that annuity is currently just $4 per person and hasn’t increased since 1875.
Even the current annuities of the Robinson Huron Treaty are not being paid by the province. It’s the federal government picking up the small tab.
In a recent trial, the Crown was found to have an obligation to increase the annuities under the Treaty. The province has appealed, however, and the case will now go to the Supreme Court.
Multiple Points of Friction Between First Nations and Province
Though these discussions aren’t directly related, they often end up on the same lists of grievances. In February, Chief Adam Pawis of Shawanaga First Nation spoke out against both Ontario’s iGaming launch and the province’s violation of the Robinson Huron Treaty:
We are astonished and deeply dismayed by the unwillingness of the provincial government to meaningfully engage with us and all First Nations on legislative developments in iGaming. To be clear, the Inherent, Indigenous, and Treaty Rights, Title and Interests of Shawanaga First Nation, signatory to the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, as they relate to gambling, wagering and games of chance, are not to be determined by any other body or persons other than Chief and Council, and only on their final authority on behalf of its Members and Citizens. With this announcement, Chief and Council are taking the next steps to asserting our inherent rights in support of the creation of an independent Indigenous gaming authority.
Both First Nations groups’ constitutional and Treaty Rights are at stake in these discussions. The outcome will also have ramifications for Ontario’s land-based casinos and its novel approach to online gambling.