Did we mention we love Couchsurfing? There aren’t too many couches in rural areas, but we found one en route to Winnipeg. It turned out to be our most unique Couchsurfing experience to date. Our host, Brennan, said that since his house was “too messy right now,” he’d get us a complimentary room at the Bear Claw Hotel, where he is the operations manager.
We thought it would be directly in Carlyle but it turned out to be another gruelling 10km, uphill and into the wind. As we pulled up beside the hotel, a lady waved us over: “Come eat!” We didn’t need to be asked twice! They were giving away “fish fry” (fish ‘n’ chips without the chips), in celebration of National Aboriginal Day (June 21).
We had the pleasure to talk to Edward, the general manager of Bear Claw Casino and Hotel, who told us the story of the establishment. Back in the 80’s the White Bear First Nations community was considered one of the highest crime rate locations in Canada. The unemployment was sky high at 98%. It was not a good place to live.
Today it is difficult to imagine that life could have been so different here just thirty years ago. We chatted with two girls working at the fish fry, who proudly talked about living on the reserve and the natural beauty of the area.
In the 90’s, the White Bear First Nations band was looking for ways to improve life on the reserve. After visiting with other First Nations south of the 49th parallel, they decided to open a gaming facility. Realizing that the provincial government had given away their gaming rights to the Western provinces, they challenged the province as those rights are actually federal juristiction. Though they faced tremendous challenges, they had strong support from the local communities. In 1996 they managed to regain their gaming rights and formed SIGA – Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Association.
Since its reopening in 1996, the casino has been very successful and has kept it as a goal to sustain the local communities. For the members of the White Bear community, the casino is an opportunity to work and get training. A portion of the casino’s profits go towards putting on community events such as National Aboriginal Day, or funding projects such as the Kenosee Lake playground.
They also support other First Nations communities: we discovered that they use really cool Mother Nature Essentials soaps and shampoos, made by a 100% Aboriginal owned business in Alberta, according to the label.