Doig River First Nations wants to develop an urban reserve in Dawson Creek, and presented the process to Mayor and council at the city's September 25, 2023 meeting.
Chief Trevor Makadahay said the urban reserve is an opportunity to foster relationships with the City of Dawson Creek and community, contributing to the local economy, and bolstering self-sufficiency for Doig River.
“It’s good to start a good relationship on, you know, a good note,” said Makadahay. “And basically, today we’re here to open up some discussions - we did do some investing in the city and some land, and we do want to start the process on urban reserve.”
It hasn’t been precisely decided what the vision for the urban reserve will be, but it’s expected to be modelled after Naache Commons, an urban reserve created in partnership with the City of Fort St. John through a Memorandum of Understanding. A formal celebration for the establishment of Naache Commons was held on June 21, 2022 as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“We’ve learned a lot of things on the way to urban reserve,” Makadahay said. “We were one of the first in BC to do it through the ATR process.”
ATR or additions-to-reserve is a process where First Nations can add land to their existing land base, and can be acquired through lands owed through specific claims or legal obligation, but also through a desire for community growth. The Federal government oversees the process.
A trading post or gas station could be potential uses for the 10 acres in Dawson Creek, which are located at 601 and 501 Highway 2, with the nation open to seeing what needs they could help the community with in terms of services or business offerings.
Doig River First Nations were nomadic, and have lived in the South Peace since time immemorial, traveling to the area for the natural resources and wildlife, but never staying too long, in order to protect the environment.
“We didn’t really stay in one area too long, because you would deplete the resources within that area. So, we did a lot of traveling throughout our territory and usually at some point in the year, we’d end up back in this area” said Makadahay.
Pouce Coupe is a family name for Doig River, who are Dane-zaa or Beaver People, with John Pouce Coupe being a former chief of Horse Lake, noted Makadahay - so the ties to the land are very important. John was buried by their church, he added.
Doig River Band Manager Shona Nelson accompanied Makadahay and band councillors to the meeting, and described the ‘economic ripple’ that comes with fostering indigenous business - First Nations prosperity contributes to regional prosperity.
“Less than 15 percent of our funding comes from the federal government. Unless we have a special project like a water plant, most of our revenue is through business, economic development, and other agreements,” said Nelson.
“Urban reserves are a great way to do that through commercial development, and that’s been a big focus of this council,” she added, noting Dawson Creek is a business-friendly community.
In 2021, First Nations generated $7.4 billion in GDP, equating to 40 percent of the total GDP generated by BC’s high-tech sector, and 29 percent of the GDP generated by BC’s construction sector. In the Northeast, $700 million in revenue was generated by First Nations, with a total GDP contribution of $364 million, and $204 million in labour income.
Doig River band councillor Garry Oker said he expects the economic benefits will spill out to the region.
“We just encourage all the business people to actually make it friendly for people to come and shop and hear people are welcome by creating art or culture or different things like that,” said Oker.
Doig River First Nations is required to negotiate a Municipal Services Agreement with the City of Dawson for the purchase of city services in-lieu of taxes, as part of the urban reserve process, and an application for additions-to-reserves has already been submitted to the federal government.
Local contractors were used in previous Doig River reserve and community developments, noted Nelson, a practice they’re committed to continuing.
The urban reserve is also expected to be consistent with city bylaws, helping to ease the process - community engagements are also being planned by Doig River First Nations to answer any questions residents might have.
“Basically, I think our nation is going to invest us in the city of Dawson. And we do see a future here, and we were here in the beginning, so we’ll be here in the end,” said Makadahay.
Dawson Creek Mayor Darcy Dober thanked the delegation for their presentation and said council and city staff have focused on fostering their relationships since he began his term, and wants to continue that trend.
“That’s been our number one thing since we got in here, as it’s just about relationships - it’s about getting to know our neighbours,” said Dober, noting he enjoyed visiting Doig River to learn more about the community's needs and issues.
“I find the older I get, the more I can just listen, and that’s what’s important - is I understand that now, and in my life, the more I listen, the more I learn,” he added.
City councillor Kyle MacDonald said he’s excited Doig River wants to invest in Dawson Creek.
“Thank you for having that sight to see us as valuable neighbours,” he said. “And I want to welcome you all with open arms and just say how excited we are to build and move forward together.”
Fellow city councillor Jerimy Earl thanked the delegation for preemptively bringing the urban reserve forward, noting he feels that sometimes the public can be misled on social media in the absence of good information.
“The best way we can get off on the right foot is to make sure we’re all supporting one another in our communications and public engagement effort,” Earl said.
City councillor Gregg Apolonio is from the Philippines and said he appreciated the educational value in getting to know Doig River First Nations.
“It’s really a good information, education piece for us - especially learning about the First Nation, the history, the culture,” said Apolonio, who's been relaying what's he learned to the Filipino community in Dawson Creek.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Have a story idea or opinion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News