Despite being “appalled” when shown APTN hidden video footage of status cards being misused to give non-status customers tax-exempt gas and cigarettes, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has put the onus on affected cardholders and angry Roseau River First Nation residents.
“It’s totally unacceptable. This issue of rights is hugely important and (the tax-exempt right) is for Indigenous people. Anybody in the business allowing this — it’s not right. It’s fraud,” Bennett said in February 2017, of the footage of non-status customers being given use of other customers’ status cars, unbeknownst to those people.
But nine months later, she now encourages “individuals with allegations and/or complaints” to complain on INAC’s website.
APTN Investigates’ ‘Where There’s Smoke’ last January also revealed her department has allowed the gas bar in question to operate on the Roseau River First Nations urban reserve for the past 10 years, despite community opposition and in violation of the department’s own rules that require reserve land to be designated for commercial lease.
Where the gas bar sits was rejected for such use in a 2008 referendum. But INAC never bothered to enforce the result.
Last February she said, “I’m happy to look into it.”
When pressed for a status update in recent weeks, her office finally responded with “The department is currently working to support the community, and at the request of the First Nation, a second land designation vote has been requested,” said a statement today from INAC. “We are supporting the community to facilitate the vote and discuss a potential timeline.”
Roseau resident and former councilor Rachel Seenie said if INAC really wanted to support the community “they should be enforcing the 2008 referendum result.”
A management and sublease agreement between the band and David Doer, sees him pay a $10 a year lease to run the gas station and in exchange, he gets all of the profits from the gas bar and half of Roseau River’s tobacco rebate – a status Indian right under Section 87 of the Indian Act. It amounts to about $80,000 a month for each Roseau and Doer.
Some believe the band should get the entire rebate and Doer shouldn’t be running the gas bar at all.
A letter from INAC dated Nov 8, 2017, addressed to a group of frustrated Roseau residents including Seenie, says “The Assessment and Investigations Services Branch has reviewed your concerns. We determined that the least for the Red Sun Gas bar is not a registered lease and the land has not been designated for leasing under the Indian Act. We have therefore concluded that the Red Sun Gas Bar lease arrangement is an internal band government matter over which INAC has no authority.”
Seenie said it’s ridiculous that INAC claims to have no authority over its own rules. while Roseau custom council family rep Lynda Roberts says this is further proof INAC does nothing.
“The minister hands out money to bands in March and then washes her hands of it all,” Roberts said. “Kill the Indian Act and get back to the treaties.”
As for Doer, he denied that he or any other manager sanctioned the practice of giving non-status customers tax-free merchandise by misusing other customers’ status cards. He declined an interview request but sent an email from his lawyer, Dean Giles.
“Mr. Doer is not inclined to submit to an interview or otherwise reply to the allegations that have been made.” his email stated in part. “It is made absolutely clear to all Red Sun employees that all non-treaty customers must pay tax on purchases made at the store. In the past, Red Sun has terminated employees for using their own treaty numbers in connection with sales to non-aboriginal customers or otherwise engaging in conduct of the sort.”
The contract states that Doer must pay 10 per cent of his proceeds to a community fund. APTN asked who at the band has access to that money but got no response.
In the meantime, Manitoba Finance, which collects tobacco taxes and issues the rebates back to First Nations, is reportedly scrutinizing the amounts paid to Roseau, which shares half with Doer.