Staff of a gas bar just outside Winnipeg have been locked out of the store amid an ongoing dispute between management and the Roseau River First Nation, which owns the land where the station is located.
The Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar, which is on Highway 6 just off the Perimeter Highway, was shut down and employees were escorted out of the building on Wednesday evening.
David Doer, who has operated and managed the gas bar since 2007, told CBC News that Roseau River Chief Ken Henry Jr. showed up at Red Sun with an eviction notice at around 7 p.m.
A sign outside the gas bar says it is "under new management" and "temporarily closed for renovations."
Roseau River First Nation officials said they will reopen the gas bar, with a new name, this weekend.
First Nation responds
A statement was released by the First Nation late Wednesday (see below) and on Thursday, Henry held a press conference to reiterate the remarks made in the statement.
'It's time to take that money back for the community, not for personal gain.' - Roseau River Chief Ken Henry Jr.
He told media the business is on undesignated land and according to the federal Indian Act, it can't legally be leased.
"Unfortunately, the proper process that the community established to designate authority to operate a business on RRAFN [Roseau River Anishinable First Nation] land was purposely circumvented by past leadership for their own personal gain," the statement from the First Nation states.
"As a result, Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar has been operating without the legal authority required under the Indian Act and the good will of RRAFN governance. During that period, the operating profits of the business have not been shared with RRAFN as was originally intended when the project was conceived."
The people of Roseau River feel manipulated and cheated, Henry said on Thursday, adding the cash flow stopped when Terry Nelson was ousted as chief.
"They've made million of dollars here, you know, so they have made back their money over and over again. It's time to take that money back for the community, not for personal gain," Henry told reporters.
Agreement ended in 2011
Nelson told CBC News on Wednesday that his daughter and Doer had been running the gas bar and sharing the profits with the First Nation.
But in 2011, the band leadership ended its agreement with the pair, claiming that 100 per cent of tobacco rebates should belong to the First Nation, according to Nelson.
He said when that happened, Red Sun was no longer able to submit cigarette sales receipts to the government for rebate, and in turn lost much of its profit.
"When the new chief and council came in, they chose to dishonour the agreement," Nelson said.
"They would have been making $100,000 a month … and, you know, the gas station would have just [given] the chief and council $100,000 a month."
As for Doer, he said he is very upset because he has worked with the band for years to develop the business.
He said he owns the building and the gas pumps, and he would go to court on Thursday to obtain an injunction against the First Nation, as well as ask that the band be charged with trespassing.
Doer said his 35 employees are out of work until he can get the court injunction.
Tonight, the leadership of Roseau River Anishinable First Nation (RRAFN) proudly announces that a great injustice to its community has been corrected with the long-awaited and peaceful re-possession of the Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar on Hwy. 6.
Earlier this evening, the unauthorized occupants that have been operating the business for their own personal gain were escorted off the premises by RRAFN leadership and under the supervision of the RCMP. The re-possession was performed with the legal authority granted under the Indian Act and supported by the attached Band Council Resolution.
The business that was completely paid for by community funding has now been returned to its rightful owners: the people of RRAFN. A re-vitalized, community-owned business will re-open shortly under the name Kiinu Smoke Shop & Gas Bar at the site. However, this time profits generated by the business will benefit all members of the RRAFN community as was originally intended, as opposed to being manipulated to financially benefit a select few individuals.
Historical Reference: In 2007, the Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar on Hwy. 6 was built with the investment of $ 2.1 Million of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation community money. The business was intended to be the flagship for further economic development on new treaty land entitlements under The Highway 6 Project. But most importantly, the objective of the project was to raise revenue to collectively benefit all members of the RRAFN community - not to create wealth for a select few individuals.
Unfortunately, the proper process that the community established to designate authority to operate a business on RRAFN land was purposely circumvented by past leadership for their own personal gain. As a result, Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar has been operating without the legal authority required under the Indian Act and the good will of RRAFN governance. During that period, the operating profits of the business have not been shared with RRAFN as was originally intended when the project was conceived.
In June of 2008, a referendum was held to determine if the community was prepared to allow the Hwy. 6 land (known as Reserve 2b) to be commercially designated. Such designation would provide the legal authority for private individuals to lease the land, operate a business and be entitled to keep all profits from that business.
However the community voted not to grant the commercial designation and as such, according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada: "Regional Officials have reviewed the Indian Lands Registry and note that a lease is not registered against the title. At present, the current occupant does not have a legal interest to either of these lands as authorized under the Indian Act which would otherwise have enabled her to continue business operations and secured the interest of her investors despite changes in leadership. Without a legal interest registered under the Indian Act, her operations remain subject to the continued goodwill of the Band Council."
"The current Band Council of RRAFN wish to clearly state for the record that the good will of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation had long since expired for the occupants of Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar," says Roseau River Chief Ken Henry.
As such the band has acted accordingly to reclaim their original $ 2.1 million investment and the business that has been operating without lease designation or property RRAFN authority since 2007.
"The community has spoken and they wanted the trespassers removed and the business returned to the people. I am pleased to advise my community members that we have executed their will and the business that they bought and paid for years ago has been finally returned to them."
RRAFN has several exciting new additions planned for the new store that they believe travelers will greatly appreciate including a state-of-the-art hot food "grab n' go" program and several product specials.
The community plans to continue developing the Hwy. 6 land to offer more services to travelers while helping the community to operate independently of the involvement of 3rd party financial management services.
"We look forward to welcoming all customers to our community-owned store shortly. Never before have the words "under new management" meant so much to so many people," adds Chief Henry.