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Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation endorses Sparks' bid for Ottawa Senators

MANIWAKI, Que. — A Quebec First Nation community has confirmed it is endorsing one of the bids involved in the upcoming sale of the Ottawa Senators.
Snoop Dogg shouted out Canada's First Nations in his ongoing social media campaign to promote his bid to buy the NHL's Ottawa Senators. Snoop posted a video to Instagram in a recording studio and wearing an Ottawa Senators jersey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Instagram/@snoopdogg

MANIWAKI, Que. — A Quebec First Nation community has confirmed it is endorsing one of the bids involved in the upcoming sale of the Ottawa Senators.

Chief Dylan Whiteduck of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation said in a statement released Wednesday evening that while multiple bidders for the NHL franchise reached out, none were more proactive than the lead investors behind Los Angeles-based businessman Neko Sparks' group.

"We welcome the sincerity, thoughtfulness, and seriousness with which they intensified their talks with us over the past 72 hours," Whiteduck said.

"We believe their approach — along with the effort to renew investment in the team and the community — represents a generational opportunity to secure meaningful economic, social, and cultural reconciliation between our peoples."

The First Nation community, located just outside the municipality of Maniwaki, Que., about 130 kilometres north of Ottawa, said it has signed a non-disclosure agreement to determine the scale and structure of the investment with the community.

The chief and council said in a statement it wanted to address the speculation about Indigenous involvement in the Senators sale process. Whiteduck was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

On Monday, rapper Snoop Dogg, who is part of the Sparks bid, alluded to reports that a First Nations group would have an equity stake, without naming a specific nation.

“It's your boy big Snoop Dogg giving a shout out to the First Nations of Canada, that's right, for joining Neko Sparks in the Ottawa Senators bid,” he said, standing in a recording studio wearing a Senators jersey. “We trying to do something, we trying to make a difference.” 

The Algonquins of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg have a land claim on LeBreton Flats, where the hockey team intends to build a new arena, noting the communities have long been stewards of the lands and "establishing well documented title and never ceding nor surrendering the lands in question."

The community noted that, since the lifting of the abeyance on the title claim earlier this year, they have been encouraged by investor and media interest in the equity role in the purchase of the Senators and redevelopment of the land, including a new facility for the club.

The board of directors of Senators Sports & Entertainment initiated the process to sell the team last November after the death of owner Eugene Melnyk earlier that year. Melnyk left the franchise to his daughters, Anna and Olivia.

Final bids were submitted on Monday to New York-based banker Galatioto Sports Partners, which is handling the sale for the Melnyk family. 

A recent valuation by Forbes listed the Senators at US$800 million, 24th out of the NHL's 30 teams. The Ottawa Sun reported that four groups submitted bids and one of those was at the $1 billion mark.

Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd is reportedly a partner in another bid led by Toronto billionaires Jeffrey and Michael Kimel.

While the community has endorsed Sparks, it called on whichever bidder is successful to "embrace this moment, and set a new tone in the relationship between First Nations peoples, the investors who help revitalize important organizations such as the Senators, and lands such las LeBreton, as well as governments who have the ability to facilitate such initiatives."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

The Canadian Press