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ASK Biblitz about Gambling First Nations.

The first player selected one of his set of sticks, wrapped them in cedarbark, and divided them into two bundles which he placed before himself. His opponent then attempted to guess, by a study of the player's expression, in which bundle the 'ace' was concealed.

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PartyPoker & PartyCasino, RIP. January 2019


See also Aboriginal Funding, Gambling, Winning, Online Gambling, Playing The Horses and Gambling at Monte.

Check out a few Aboriginal Art Favorites, too!

How easy or difficult would it be for all First Nations to follow the lead of Kahnawake in online gambling?

Biblitz replies:

As all Canadians know after years of doomed aboriginal programs and subsidies, which have unjustly enriched undeserving lawyers at the expense of their beneficiaries, nothing for Indians ever comes easily. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest traditional gambling rights. Here's the challenge:

Gambling in Canada: Golden Goose or Trojan Horse?

A Report from the First National Symposium on Lotteries and Gambling, May 1988.

Edited by Colin S. Campbell and John Lowman

Perhaps the most contentious issue immediately facing Canadian policy-makers is that of gaming on Native Indian reserves. As in the United States, Canadian Indians have been quick to recognize that gambling operations conducted on native lands can provide a source of substantial revenues, native employment opportunities and economic growth. What has become problematic is the issue of whether or not provincial governments have the constitutional authority to require native groups operating on reserves to seek provincial licences and adhere to provincial regulatory policies. Thus it is not so much gambling operations as such that concern Native Indians as it is the larger issue of sovereignty and the independence from provincial and federal governments in making decisions about economic enterprise on Native lands. In this light, the right to conduct gambling operations is perceived by Native leaders as a vehicle for establishing precedents which they see as having the potential to allow for a more expeditious settlement of Indian land claims. While provinces such as Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have initiated criminal charges against unlicensed native gambling operations, Native groups remain adamant that provincial gambling regulations do not apply on Indian soil. (From the Introduction, p. xxii)

The official policy of the last two Canadian governments has been to encourage Indian self-government and economic self-reliance. On April 15, 1986 then Minister of Indian Affairs David Crombie issued a goverment paper entitled "Policy Statement on Indian Self-Government in Canada"... To our knowledge this official Indian Affairs policy had been neither rescinded nor amended as of 1987. On the contrary, the agenda for the First Minister's Conference scheduled for March 26 and 27, 1987 in Ottawa contained one priority item: constitutional entrenchment of the Indian right to self-government. Yet, all Indian Gaming By-Laws submitted during the past few years have been systematically disallowed. )emphasis added)(-- p. 152)

... it must be noted that the Criminal Code establishes the general rule that no gambling activities are permitted in Canada unless they are allowed and regulated by the provinces. The general legislative scheme is for the Criminal Code to probibit gambling, but if the provinces wish to allow it, they are given free rein regarding the policy they use to achieve the Criminal Code objectives. In other words, the Code delegates regulatory power over gambling activities to the provinces. (-- p. 155)

Argument favoring aboriginal sovereignty:

... Mewett and Manning state that "The criminal law is premised on the belief that there are some acts that ought to be prevented and on the belief that the criminal process is the best way to achieve this." (footnote omitted). Demonstrably, in our society, bingo and other gaming activities are not considered to be acts that ought to be prevented. Rather, they are permitted, albeit carefully regulated. ...

The British North America Act of 1867 provides in s. 91 that jurisdiction to legislate over the criminal law, except the constitution of the Courts of criminal jurisdiction but including the procedure in criminal matters, belongs to the Parliament of Canada... Under the British colonial system, the constitution of a settlement would be governed by the letters patent or by the instructions issued to the governor under signed manual. Where territory not already settled was conquered by or ceded to the Crown, it was a matter or royal prerogative as to whether it was granted its own constitution. Settlers were deemed to take with them the common law of England, and, insofar as it was applicable, any Statute law of England then existing... In the case of conquered or ceded territory, which was already settled, a different situation applied. It already had some legal system, and this generally was permitted to remain in force until changed. The application of English law was not a matter of automatic imposition. (-- p. 169-170)


This constitutional position was anticipated in 1982 by Mr. Ian Binnie Q.C., Associate Deputy Minister of Justice. In a legal opinion prepared for the Office of Native Claims on the question of the obligation of provincial governments to participate in the comprehensive land claims process (Nov. 10, 1982, ltr. to Mr. Clovis Demers, A.D.M., DIAND) he said:

The next issue to examine is whether even a provincial law which was valid to restrain the exercise of aboriginal rights prior to April 17, 1982 remains effective in relation to existing aboriginal and treaty rights after that date, or whether the effect of the Constitution Act, 1982 is that whereas formerly provincial law could not directly regulate aboriginal and treaty rights, the provinces have now lost their authority indirectly, an effect of the exercise of aboriginal and treaty rights as well.

To what extent, having regard to ss.35 and 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, will provincial laws apply to limit the exercise of aboriginal and treaty rights?

He concludes that:
The relevant constitutional test is no longer whether provincial laws are in relation to exclusive federal objects, but whether they are inconsistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing aboriginal and treaty rights. (-- p. 173-174)

B.C. aboriginals who might claim gambling as a traditional right:

Indeed, two Tribal Councils in B.C. assert that gambling in the form of the traditional "bone" or "stick" game is an existing aboriginal right within the meaning of s. 35 (of the Constitution Act, 1982).

The Kootenay Indians, whose reserves and traditional lands straddle the international border in southern B.C., spell their gambling game "Katgahat" which means Kootenay stick game.

The Gitksan on the Skeena River still observe and maintain a traditional chieftain position whose Indian name is "Gambling Chief." His power and position of Chief derives from his skill and cunning in the bone game. This Chief participates equally with other Gitksan Chiefs of high rank in their potlach which is the Indian institution equivalent to a legislative council.

The Kitimats call the bone game "Lahal" and it is still practised as a cultural sport along the Fraser River involving whole communities competing against each other in teams. Traditionally, the Gitksans gambled for the right to win spoils of war which then became the common property of the house (or clan) of the chief who won it. The communal ownership of gambling winnings is in keeping with the fundamental and unique Indian philosophy of communal ownership of property. (Footnote from Submission to Task Force on Gaming on Reserves by Vina Starr and Micha Menczer, p. 174-175)

Our Story

Aboriginal Voices on Canada's Past

Foreward by Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson

Sometimes Grandpa would take me along to his poker games. He would play for two or three days at a time sometimes. I would have to come home and look after the horses though. He was happy when he was on a lucky streak. Sometimes he would leave me at home to cut wood or haul water, or whatever had to be done. Then I knew he would be getting into the homebrew and come home in a rage. I hated those times, Grandpa yelling, telling me I was "no good for nothing," even though the wood was up and the water was there. He would yell and scream for awhile, then he would go to bed and sleep, or he would cry, grab me, and cry all over me. I know why he did it, I couldn't blame him. We'd both lost my mother and my grandmother, and he'd lost others besides, lost himself. And him crying was better than the belt.

... gambled and gone like Ian Tyson's Summer Wages

In those days, I had been happy only when Uncle Lucien took me upriver on the steamer. He was the captain and he would keep me up in the cabin with him. He taught me about the water, the currents, how the light on the waves told a story. I loved that world. He told me I had good water sense. He started to teach me how to navigate, and I was good at it. By the time I was fourteen I was working full-time on the boats, in the man's world. Uncle would take me to dances. In time I wasn't just a kid any more, and I was a good dancer. The ladies liked me. They made me feel like I was someone they wanted. I had fun with them. I spent my money on them and my poker games. That's the way money goes, I was never good at keeping it around. (From There Is a Place by Tantoo Cardinal, p. 110)

Gambling in British Columbia today:

Given the developments elsewhere in Canada, whereby vast amounts of gambling revenue accrue to other provincial governments, it is somewhat surprising that British Columbia derives such a small percentage of its government revenue from gambling. In fact, of all the provinces, British Columbia receives the second lowest percentage (2.76%) of government revenues from gambling sources. Despite obvious interest in introducing VLTs, destination casinos, and electronic bingo formats as income generating ventures, policy initiatives have inevitably been stalemated. The stalemate, however has not resulted from the instransigence of non-profit organizations.

... What can be observed in British Columbia is a sustained erosion of the role that non-profit organizations have played conducting charity gambling events, and a persistent encroachment by government on the revenues available through gambling operations. That is, charitable involvement in casino gambling as licensees who "managed and conducted" gambling is now passe. With the continued phasing in of destination and community casinos in partnership with the BCLC, legal changes to accommodate continued non-profit involvement in bingo will be for naught. Provincial government monopolization of gambling operations in the form of casinos and slot machines represents a trajectory that will ultimately destroy the viability of remaining non-profit bingo ventures. As several cynics commented: "it is not a matter of if the government will take over all gambling and institute a community chest model. It is simply a matter of when." (From Non-profits and gambling expansion: the British Columbia experience, by Colin Campbell, December, 2000, pgs. 14-15, part of a longer, more detailed study published by Canada West Foundation)

Legends of Our Times

Native Cowboy Life

By Leslie Tepper and Morgan Baillargeon

Horse racing and betting were an important part of Native gatherings. This Secwepemc legend tells of a supernatural being who transforms himself into a horse to help a man regain the wealth his father has gambled away.

A wealthy man gambled and raced horses with the chief of a neighboring tribe until he lost his dogs, his horses, and everything he had. His wife and son were much grieved because they had come to be so poor. The lad, in a fit of shame and discontent, left home and wandered over the country. (From the opening of The Gambler's Son and Star Man, Collected by James A. Teit, p. 205)


teaman90 Given the limited commercial uses allowed on aboriginal lands, should Canada encourage clean, green, native online gambling enterprises?

Clearly, gambling has played a pivotal role in the development of aboriginal cultures as it has throughout the wide world, so there is ample evidence of traditional rights to continue the practice.

Or should taxpayers continue perpetrating the fraud that aboriginals are somehow unable to manage their lands, a myth that's hugely profitable to the legions of bureaucratic trustees who control the billions that mysteriously fail to reach their intended beneficiaries, as successive audits revealp? Weigh in!

If there are games we've missed, please send descriptions and sources to All info most gratefully received!


Rarely visible in Edwin Holgate's 1927 painting, Totem Poles, Gitsegiuklas, is an admittedly unattractive Biblitz forebear carved in the post at left most probably to frighten off evil spirits and predators no doubt with modest success. We Biblitzes have our uses!

Indians of the Northwest Coast

By Pliny Earle Goddard

The Northwest Coast people (click on Canada's magnificent Museum of Civilization link) were quite addicted to gambling. The most popular game was the well-known and widely distributed one of guessing by the expression of the opponent's face where a marked stick was concealed. The objects necessary were a number of sets of sticks about three-eighths of an inch in diameter and five inches long. The sticks of the same set were painted with the same pattern except the "ace" which was unmarked. Each set had a bag and a larger one held the various sets of the owner. The sets of sticks were laid out on a piece of skin, the playing was on a mat, the sticks were displayed on a second piece of hide while the guess was made. The opponents sat facing each other. The first player selected one of his set of sticks, wrapped them in cedarbark, and divided them into two bundles which he placed before himself. His opponent then attempted to guess, by a study of the player's expression, in which bundle the "ace" was concealed. If he guessed correctly, he took the play, but if not, the former player continued. When one side attained a count of seven, four bundles were made instead of two; the player won the final point only if the guesser missed it after three trials. Such odds greatly prolonged the game. This game varied as to the objects used, but the main point, that of guessing from the opponents's expression and reactions was the same.

There were, in addition, dice games, shooting at a mark, a form of quoits, shinney, wrestling, and numerous other games. The stones used in the latter game were frequently found near the village sites. The Northwest Coast people, in common with those all over the world, had string figures or cat's cradles. (-- p. 106)


A Cree Life

The Art of Allen Sapp

Featuring the work and reflections of Plains Cree artist Kiskayetum Saposkum

People liked to play this game especially at pow-wows. Hide small stick in one hand and people other side guess which hand. At this game people play drums and sometimes would bet money. Sometimes also instead of money bet harnesses or clothes. When person guess which hand the stick was in the winner would then take over the stick, and the drum he would give to one of the men on his side and they'd play the game the same way as the other side. Lots of people would watch these games and they would eat and watch at the same time. (-- p. 96)

People of the Lakes


Several tribes of the lakes region have preserved legends of an ancient migration. The Ojibwa - sometimes referred to as the Chippewa - tell of an epic journey that long ago brought their ancestors to the shores of Lake Superior from the east. In the beginning, the story goes, their ancestors lived in the land of the rising sun, near the great salt sea that whites would call the Atlantic. For generations, the people had prospered there, drawing on the bounty of the eastern forests and lakes. They called themselves the Anishinabe, or original People. In those early years, one version of the legend says, the Original People "were so many and powerful that if one was to climb the highest mountain and look in all directions, he would not be able to see the end of the nation." Living in small bands, the Anishinabe were scattered across a broad area. But they kept in contact, traveling by canoe and overland trail to exchange goods and hold councils. (-- p. 22)

... Ojibwa gamblers threw the four long sticks in a contest of chance known as the snake game. The five shorter pieces were used to keep tally. (-- p. 50)

The Snake Game


He took to spending more time with Red Deer after that day, brought him over to Old Man Muskeg's. The old man told the boy stories, about Winabogo, and The People. Tragic stories, funny stories, frightening stories. The old man would talk for hours, his hands a thousand shapes - running deer, young maidens, roaring flames. And when the old man tired of talking he loved to play games -- mikazin'ata'diwan, the moccasin game, or bu'gese'win, the plate game. He took a delight in these afternoon contests, and gambled shrewdly. He played each with enthusiasm. But of all the games he loved the snake game best.


He had a passion for it, and Osada admired his sill.

"Watch!" the old man would say, throwing the sticks up in the air, flashing.

"What's he doing?" Red Deer would ask.

"Watch," Osada would say.

The old man was crafty, and he carved his own sticks. Losers had accused him of fitting lead into their bellies, holding the sticks too long when he threw them, or rubbing magic on them. Now no one would play with Old Man Muskeg, because in his old age he had gone off a little, and sometimes took things he shouldn't.

It had been like that the first time Osada had played him nearly 20 years before.

"For your ring," Old Man Muskeg had said.

"This?" Osada had said, pointing to his wedding ring.

Even then the old man was a talker. He talked nonstop. He talked about the flood, and the ruined rice harvest; he talked about his son, Tossed-About-the-Winds, and his problems with his wife. His hands were always moving and he noticed things around him. A bird, someone walking, anything.
"Over there," he would say.

Osada had tried to ignore him, but it put him in a nervous mind. He had considered himself an expert at the game, had held the sticks with great confidence, only, that afternoon, he threw the sticks too high or too low, or put too much spin on them. Belly up, belly down. Four sticks, bright red tongues on the end.

"You want to play to the end?" Old Man Muskeg had asked. It was close, but not too close, Osada leading.

"Of course you old coot," Osada said, poking the old man with a stick.

Old Man Muskeg shrugged, then smiled, his eyes bright.

"Watch," he said.
Three tosses. Three belly up/belly down. High score.

"I win," he said.

Osada had sat there on the blanket, dumbfounded, and Old Man Muskeg had touched his knee.

"You keep the ring," he had said, then smiled again and tapped his forehead. "Only, don't forget." (From the first chapter entitled, Gama'giwe'binigowin (The Snake Game), pgs. 10-11)