Gambling fever has become a plague across Indian land. For some communities gambling on reservations has become a profitable economic venture. Gambling establishments such as casinos and bingo halls are becoming as visible as huge food chain stores.

Gambling’s seemingly innocent nature attracts the unaware gambler to its mystery. This insidious disease has snared many gamblers to oblivion. Like alcoholism, gambling is an addiction.

Gambling affects the individual, family and community. It affects the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual nature of the gambler. What seemed to have been a recreation for some gamblers could become a hellish nightmare.

Different types of games traditional or non-traditional have been around for generations. One traditional game is played with a caribou tail bone, “Dapatchewan,” and piece of caribou tail tuft.

There would be about six small tail bones tied together with holes where you would try to put the pointy end of the bone into the hole of the tail bone in mid-air. The amount of tail bone you would catch in midair would determine how skilled you were.

I remember when I was young in Moose Factory, Ont., where I grew up in Horden Hall residential school. We played games with coins or marbles. As young boys there was a game I always saw and sometimes played by throwing coins toward a stick was “Shake or Tails, Heads or Tails.” At times even the supervisors were in the game. When you lose you’re “jacked out.”

We would throw coins, nickels, dimes or quarters at a stick stuck into the ground at a distance sometimes with a small circle around it. The player who threw the coin that lands closest would be the person who would shake or take. At the beginning of the game it was agreed whether the player would shake or take. The one closest would take all the coins and win. If it was a shake
the-player throws them in the air and win all the coins that landed with heads on the ground. It got to be interesting when more players lined up to play. At times there would be a good player who threw a coin and it leaned against the stick. This would be a leaner.

Other games with the older generation of males were with playing cards, like poker that I saw when I used to visit in the tent city, a land area that most Crees from Quebec chose to live in on the island and along the shore of the Moose River. There would be poker card games all night, especially on weekends.

Today in Waskaganish, we involve ourselves with events and activities in the community with fundraising adapting from the old days and ways. Most of this fundraising for clubs and organizations involves gambling.

That is an area where some people tend to have trouble understanding about the compulsive or obsessive influence that gambling has over an individual’s life. That is my aim in writing and presenting this information on gambling.

This article is for you to become aware of gambling addiction. I am submitting this information and I give credit to the research done by Dave Belleau of Alkali Lake in his training workshop that I attended in Edmonton and I quickly learned of my own behaviour. I am not trying to influence anyone to quit but to be aware of the addiction. It is a powerful force for those who are not aware.

The compulsive gambler
“Once the gambler is hooked by the addiction to gamble and has crossed the fine line of either you are or you’re not, the powerful need to control emerges. It is in being out of control to the gambling that they gambler becomes access to control his or her gambling. Thus, the term compulsive gambler coins this obsession.” -Dave Belleau

Additional and nontraditional gambling in the past
One of the most common forms of gambling known to many First Nations communities are “stick games.” The games are quite common throughout the First Nations communities across Canada. Rules may alter very so slightly, yet the spirit to win is present.

These games were played for tribal pride. Two different nations may have a gathering where stick games highlight the event. It’s still played today with more intensity in teams compared to the favoured bingo.

Bingo was once a harmless church basement recreational activity for small reservation groups. Prizes were foodstuffs with perhaps a five-dollar bill for the final game. Drawn by the monetary prize, organizers discovered a potential fundraising venture. Today, bingo halls are all over the land like churches. These halls attract First Nations people en masse.

Common characteristics of compulsive gambler
-spends a lot of time gambling. Little or no time for the family.
-begins to bet more to get the same rush.
-chasing losses. Tries to win back the money he or she lost.
-borrows and borrows and borrows more money.
-very secretive and defensive about his or her gambling.
-“big win mentality” never talks about losses.
-obsessed to control the gambling.
-promises to slow down but to no avail.
-lies about the nature of his or her gambling.
-bailouts: spouses rescue him or her from creditors.
-behaviour: is either excited or depressed.
-irritable: gets mad when someone interrupts the gambling.
-brags about winning.
-gambles alone.
-panic stricken: fears credit for gambling will be cut off.
-neglects hygiene, exercise and proper diet.
-very unstructured in his or her daily life.
-obsessed to seek action for the rush.

Cost of gambling to
1. Individual: loss of self-worth, isolation from self, family and community, finances in disarray, loss of relationships.
2. Family: loss of family time, no get-togethers for festive seasons, self-esteem is a shambles, feuds over money, abuse of all sorts happen when children are left alone.
3. Community: community spirit is gone, gossip, no unity, no creativity.

The Two Types of Addiction

Chemical/substance: alcohol, drugs, solvents/inhalants, caffeine, nicotine, prescription drugs
Process/activity: gambling, sex, work, shopping, TV (soap operas), sports, religion


The Waskaganish Wellness Society assists others with such issues we encounter as we recover from the abuse of alcohol and drugs. We tend to cross over to another addiction like gambling, eating, shopping and so on. I would like to share the words of Jane Middleton Moz from her book titled Shame and Guilt. Moz was our special guest at our community wellness week in Waskaganish on March 9-11 of this year.

“The individual who feels he can never achieve for himself the success or acceptability his parents or powerful others required of him, may gamble compulsively to attempt to ‘win the big one’ and finally become powerful enough.

“When individuals lose faith in their internal resources and distrust their own acceptance, they must strive harder and harder to meet the expectations of others or find escape from the intense pain of shame. Alcohol and drugs momentarily override the pain, provide the sense of power for the powerless.

“The greater the addiction, the greater the power given to the addiction and the more helpless the individual feels in breaking free of it. The individual feels helplessly dependent on the addiction for self power or self worth in much the same way they felt helpless and dependent on the original caretaker who found them lacking in capability, power or worth.

“The search for external resolution – the attempt to find self-esteem, self acceptance, control, love ability and personal power externally – renders the self more helpless, powerless and unworthy. And these feelings result in increasing sense of shame and the drive to find yet another external answer.”