Busting bootleggers

The terminal building of the Prince Albert airport.

Three northern First Nations have posted a security guard at the Prince Albert airport, in a bid to intercept bootleggers bringing liquor to their communities.

The Black Lake, Hatchet Lake and Fond du Lac First Nations are dry reserves – no booze allowed. They’re also remote, with the latter two only accessible by air, or by ice road in the winter.

But Chief Coreen Sayazie of Black Lake says that bottles of whiskey still regularly find their way in. They often pass through the Prince Albert airport, which Sayazie calls the “primary base” for bootleggers.”

“It’s widespread,” she said. “I’d say there’s bootlegging all over the communities of Stony and Black Lake. When people get their child benefit or GST cheques, we know the bootleggers are driving around trying to sell.”

Sayazie said bootleggers can earn a 300 per cent mark-up on whiskey, selling a $26 bottle for $100 on the reserve. When liquor is particularly scarce, she said, the price can jump as high as $140.

But the profit comes at a price – paid in destroyed lives.

“Alcohol has affected our people,” Sayazie said, “in terms of suicide and families breaking up.”

In collaboration with the Prince Albert Grand Council, the three First Nations formed a joint venture with the airlines that serve their community. In late November, they hired a security officer to watch out for suspicious packages on their way up north.

For more on this story, read this weekend’s print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.