Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

Enough Talk: It Is Time to Take Action on the Dangers-And Opportunities-In Gambling on Native Reserves

Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

Enough Talk: It Is Time to Take Action on the Dangers-And Opportunities-In Gambling on Native Reserves

Article excerpt

First Nations Gaming in Canada

Yale D. Belanger, editor

University of Manitoba Press

308 pages, softcover

ISBN 9780887557231

First Nations Gaming in Canada is billed as the first multidisciplinary study of aboriginal gaming in Canada. The book lives up to this description: its twelve essays span the historical, sociological, economic and political aspects of the issue. Contributors, including editor Yale Belanger, are all suitably credentialed and have written on this subject before;

Belanger in particular is the author of Gambling with the Future: The Evolution of Aboriginal Gaming in Canada.

But despite--or perhaps because of--its ambitious breadth, reading First Nations Gaming in Canada generates a sense of incompleteness and frustration. A great deal of its research is self-admittedly inconclusive, or reveals the failure of current aboriginal policy to achieve successful outcomes. Although perhaps unintended, the work leaves the reader with a sense of the overwhelming, urgent need to change Canada's relationship with First Nations people, not only to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians themselves, but also to put an end to the so-called "Indian industry" of sociologists, analysts and lawyers who subsist off their misery while not actually solving the problems at hand.

An example of this is provided in Chapter 5, "Gambling Research in Canadian Aboriginal Communities: A Participatory Action Approach." Author Harold J. Wynne sets out a proposed research framework for studying the issue of Native gaming, "Participatory Action Research," which has been previously employed to gather information from aboriginal communities in other contexts.

Curiously, two of the three examples of past PAR projects cited by Wynne revealed that while they may have xwledge, they failed to produce any concrete results. The most egregious case was that of the 700-person community of Big Trout Lake, which spent five years on a PAR project to resolve a dispute with the Department of Indian and Northern Development over the building of a water sanitation and waste water treatment system. For all these efforts, no system was built. Wynne writes: "On the surface, it may appear as if this PAR project was unsuccessful, as it did not result in the desired outcome, which was the actual construction of a water and sewer system for the community. However, this fact in itself provides some knowledge, [including] that empowerment through PAR raises group consciousness and builds capacity."

Sadly, this excerpt illustrates much of what is wrong with current Canadian aboriginal affairs policy. If any non-aboriginal community was told it would spend five years discussing the building of a water treatment system and none was built, regional newspapers would be full of protest letters from affected taxpayers, and local politicians would be turfed in the next election. Yet sociologists think it perfectly acceptable to subject aboriginal communities to such an exercise.

Other chapters in the book also leave the reader questioning whether these research projects are a valuable use of First Nations' time--and of the public resources likely used to fund those projects. Chapter 6, "Exploring Gambling Impacts in Two Alberta Cree Communities: A Participatory Action Study," includes a section on "Limitations," which emphasizes that the project was a pilot study and "cannot be generalized to these communities as a whole ... results provide only basic information ... [and] the mode of survey administration was not consistent across participants." What, then, is the real value of this study? If it does not accurately represent the extent of the problem, then it risks giving readers a false or incomplete picture of the issue.

Similarly, Chapter 10 is devoted to the fallout from the "Dutch Lerat Affair," a case of serious misappropriation of funds by the former chair and CEO of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. …

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