The city of Edmonton and the Enoch Cree First Nation have signed an agreement to work together on housing, tourism and culture, economic development, and infrastructure, and create the kind of relationship Edmonton already has with other neighbouring communities in the capital region.
"It's an important milestone in the history of our two communities coming together," said Mayor Don Iveson on Friday.
There's never been a formal relationship between the city of Edmonton and the Enoch Cree First Nation and this document "solidifies a more respectful government-to-government relationship," the mayor said.
"This isn't just about signing a paper," said Enoch Cree Chief Billy Morin.
The mayor and several city councillors took part in a sweat and pipe ceremony Thursday evening with Morin and other band members.
That gesture by the Edmonton politicians was important because it recognized the traditional way Indigenous peoples seal agreements, said Morin.
"It took a lot of vulnerability for them to do that stuff," said Morin. "When you do those things for us it's really symbolic."
Urban reserve years away
There is now talk from both sides about this agreement paving the way for an urban reserve in Edmonton.
"They're really special economic zones," said Iveson. "It would allow First Nation investors to build businesses in the city."
The details of how that would work in Edmonton still need to be worked out, and an urban reserve is still years down the road, said Iveson.
The mayor has been invited to communities in Saskatchewan where this is already being done, he added.
There were over 120 urban reserves across Canada as of 2008, according to the website for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Saskatchewan has the largest number of urban reserves with 54, including the oldest — the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation urban reserve — which was created in 1988.
This idea is really at the conceptual stage, said Morin, adding there may be lessons to be learned from Saskatchewan.
Those urban reserves include small plots of land like gas stations, office buildings and gathering places, he said.
"I'm sure there's some hiccups they've gone through, but I think we can perfect it better than they can," said Morin.
While the agreement helps the two sides move toward that in the future, for now it means further collaboration in areas such as tourism and health, said Morin.
He envisions a hospital or medical centre getting built on Enoch Cree land that would be used by Edmontonians and Enoch Cree people alike.
"There are some jurisdictional hurdles that we have to overcome, some barriers and some walls," said Morin. "I can't see it not happening."
"When you have leaders like this, and the administration teams behind us who are also young and very enthusiastic, I think it's just a matter of will," he added.