Living Sky celebrates past 10 years; exciting future ...
The construction of a casino with a performing arts centre in Swift Centre only happened after a lot of debate in the community and even a plebiscite, but 10 years later the Living Sky Casino has become a significant community partner.
The Living Sky Casino hosted a 10th anniversary gala on Sept. 28 to start the celebration of a decade in the community. There will be a variety of events and entertainment over the next five months to mark the occasion.
Speakers at the gala reflected on the relevance of that decision to allow the construction of a casino in Swift Current.
Alice Pahtayken, who was the chief of the Nekaneet First Nation at that time, said it was a milestone when the casino was built in Treaty 4 territory, and the Nekaneet First Nation is proud and honoured to be the landowner of Living Sky Casino.
“We had ceremonies when this was started,” she mentioned. “We had the elders' support and the members of Nekaneet.”
Alvin Francis, the current chief of the Nekaneet First Nation, said everyone can be proud that they were able to do this together.
“I believe we can co-exist and live in harmony for a long period of time, as long as we keep talking to each other and build the relationship stronger,” he noted.
Ron Crowe was the chair of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council and he contributed to bringing the casino to Swift Current. He congratulated the community on the partnerships and the relationships that have been built over the past 10 years.
“We couldn't have imagined in the early days the kind of success this place would have, not only in developing a place like this, but some of the relationships that have taken place through economic development, social development, the housing initiatives that have taken place in helping the community,” he said. “It goes beyond just a gaming establishment.”
Melanie Friesen, the past president of the Swift Current Arts Council, referred to the efforts of the late Paul Rezansoff, who dreamed of a performing arts centre in the community. His cooperation with the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) resulted in the addition of the event centre to the casino.
“With it's state of the art lighting and sound system and 576 seats, the event centre provides the perfect venue for the many quality acts that the Swift Current Arts Council and the Living Sky Casino bring to Swift Current,” Friesen said. “The artists that perform in our Stars for Saskatchewan series are always so amazed at this high quality venue.”
A number of speakers referred to the feelings of skepticism that existed in the community about the idea of building a casino in the city.
The City of Swift Current's Director of Business Development Marty Salberg recalled that serious discussion about the idea of a casino already started some 17 years ago, but it took time to become a reality. There were some local comments that a casino will contribute to more crime, broken homes and other problems, but none of those things happened.
Tourism Swift Current Executive Director Lee Friesen referred to the casino plebiscite, which took place on Oct. 22, 2003 on the day of the municipal election.
“Swift Current was a different place 15 years ago,” he said. “Some would say it was a quiet place. At the time there was some people who wanted to keep it that way. There were others who thought it should grow. That led to many discussions and there was more than one town hall meeting.”
In the plebiscite the community was asked to approve the proposal to build a performing arts convention centre and casino, and 55 per cent voted yes.
According to Friesen the casino did not only contribute to the growth of the community, but it gave the community an opportunity to learn more about the country's history and First Nation culture, to attend a pow wow and to start talking about Treaty 4.
“These are the things that are happening in our community and we are better for it,” he said.
Tribal Chief Edmund Bellegarde of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) said some were suspicious, apprehensive and skeptical that a First Nations project could be a good thing for the community, but it became a reality through the creation of relationships.
“In the last 10 years it's starting to really demonstrate that there's value in relationships, there's value in building bridges, there's value in getting to know one another, there's value in peaceful coexistence and being good neighbours and working together, and that's what we have here,” he emphasized.
The FHQTC has invested more than $48 million in capital projects in Swift Current since 2008, including the casino at just under $36 million, the Home Inn & Suites hotel in partnership with d3h Hotels for $8.8 million, and an affordable housing project with 22 townhomes at a cost of $4.4 million.
“We'll continue looking for other ways to invest in the southwest and to continue to add to that legacy of success,” he said.
Living Sky Casino General Manager Trevor Marion provided an overview of the casino's economic and social impact in the community.
“The purpose is to be a part of the community in which you live and work, and lend a helping hand when needed,” he said. “As part of SIGA we share success.”
The casino currently employs 185 people and 4,600 volunteers hours have been contributed to the community through the casino's volunteer program. The casino has contributed $2.9 million in support and sponsorships through 347 sponsorship partnerships involving 176 different organizations. Jackpot payouts since the casino opened have been about $160 million.
Casino patrons will have opportunities to win cash and various prizes during the anniversary celebrations.
Various musical entertainers will be part of the anniversary celebrations, starting with a performance by Swift Current singer-songwriter Colter Wall on Oct. 10. Canadian rock band Trooper will be at the event centre on Nov. 22 and the Stampeders will perform on New Year's Eve. Wayne Newton, who performed at the first concert at the event centre, will return for a 10th anniversary appearance on Feb. 23.
The special events and promotions at the Horizons restaurant will include a Dec. 28 anniversary celebration featuring cakelava, the Las Vegas wedding cake and birthday cake studio. Another highlight will be the 10th anniversary pow wow at Kinetic Exhibition Park on Feb. 16 and 17.
More details about the 10th anniversary events and entertainment are available on the Living Sky Casino website.
A gift presentation was made to dignitaries during the 10th anniversary gala, Sept. 28. Living Sky Casino Marketing and Guest Services Manager Lindsay Gerbrandt is making a presentation to former Nekaneet First Nation Chief Alice Pahtayken.
The Starblanket Juniors perform an honour song during the Living Sky Casino's 10th anniversary gala, Sept. 28.
Living Sky Casino General Manager Trevor Marion speaks at the 10th anniversary gala, Sept. 28.
Tourism Swift Current Executive Director Lee Friesen speaks at the Living Sky Casino's 10th anniversary gala, Sept. 28.