A small Manitoba First Nation is baiting the Canadian and Manitoba government by setting up an illegal smoke shop and gambling lounge.
At noon, officials with the Canupawakpa First Nation, began selling cigarettes from Mohawk distributors in Quebec for $40 a carton or $5 a pack, less than half the price for Manitoba.
Casino-style poker will also be offered — all without a license, said Chief Frank Brown.
He has also ordered 100 VLT machines from Las Vegas, though they have not yet arrived.
'We need to create revenue to sustain ourselves.'—Chief Frank Brown, Canupawakpa First Nation
The Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop is located on a dusty highway, about 80 kilometres southwest of Brandon. The location is just off the reserve’s treaty land but on property purchased by the band.
The government allows cigarettes to be sold at a cut rate on reserves but only to band members with treaty numbers.
The Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop, however, is open to anyone and Brown hopes it, as well as the lounge, will generate much-needed revenue for his people.
He wants attention for flouting the law and has sent invitations to the opening to politicians, including the provincial gaming minister.
Brown is hoping he will be charged so the First Nation can speed up a court battle to get treaty status. Right now, residents of the reserve are considered refugees within Canada, he said.
Canupawakpa is in a relatively rare situation. The band had a treaty with the British, but current members don't have official treaty status, Brown explained.
The band filed a claim in federal court against Ottawa several years ago, but nothing has come of it, he said. That's why the band decided to make the move aimed at getting itself prosecuted.
Housing, health problems
As well, the reserve's funding hasn't changed since 1980 although its population has doubled in size, Brown said, adding that he can't wait any longer for government help.
He's fought for years to get a better deal for his people, but all the government does is tell him to wait.
Housing is deteriorating, water is contaminated and many residents suffer from chronic health problems, he said.
"We're dying, that's why we need to create revenue to sustain ourselves," he said.
He expects support from First Nations across Canada because they can all relate to the frustration of never having enough money to fund essential programs, he said.
"We're operating on less than 10 cents out of a dollar. Imagine that isn't that a crime."
The RCMP and province have said they are monitoring the situation.