Published: October 7, 2023

Indigenous gaming advocate earns provincial tourism award

Bernie Shepherd had an exciting week when he was presented with  the 2023 Tourism Builder Award by Hospitality Saskatchewan.

Shepherd had no idea that he had actually won the award, along with Hugh Vassos, and Morris and Sue McLachlan.

He thought the winner would be announced on Sept. 26, but instead all three were awarded the honour.

Born in White Bear, Shepherd's family remained for five years and then moved to Steelman. After a while there, they moved to Whitewood and then Regina, where he grew up.

Shepherd feels very fortunate to have escaped the residential schools, but not all his family was that lucky.

Shepherd is the former chief of White Bear and council member of the First Nations.

He will go down in history for having the idea of opening a casino on the reserve to create jobs for the Indigenous people.

The casino was in a two-story log clubhouse and while staff quietly cashed out at the end of their shift, the RCMP was closing in.

On March 22, 1993, less than a month after the casino opened, the RCMP came into the building with dogs, helicopters and guns.

The place was trashed, money flow ceased and a few councillors were detained.

This act left the people of the area shocked, regardless of whether they were band members.

The band was so angry they wanted to retaliate, but Shepherd asked for 48 hours to deal with issues and that made the difference.

It boiled down to law and jurisdiction, so they hired historians, lawyers and consultants so they could go down the path of opening a casino.

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