Urban reserve an opportunity for business, reconciliation, Edmonton city councillors say

·2 min read
Urban reserves have thrived in several Canadian cities, including this gas station in downtown Saskatoon. (Google - image credit)
Urban reserves have thrived in several Canadian cities, including this gas station in downtown Saskatoon. (Google - image credit)

Edmonton is paving the way for local First Nations to establish reserve land within city limits and with it, potential business opportunities and services.

City council's executive committee agreed to adopt an urban reserve strategy, which administration presented in a report Monday.

Pockets of urban reserve could take on different forms: business ventures, services centres for First Nations members, areas of cultural significance and housing developments.

Hotels, gas stations, office buildings are a few examples of what could go up on designated urban reserve land, as demonstrated in other cities such as Winnipeg and Saskatoon, the report shows.

Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations Vernon Watchmaker told the committee he sees potential economic opportunities and an improved relationship between the city and Indigenous people.

"In the spirit of that reconciliation — to be part of that prosperity and be part of the growth — I think is very important," Watchmaker said. "It's just going to create more jobs, not just for our First Nation members, but for people who live here in the city."

Coun. Sarah Hamilton spearheaded the initiative in January when she asked fellow councillors to support a motion, directing the city to create an urban reserve strategy.

"It's a really good example, I think, of a tangible act of reconciliation," Hamilton said "This is something that can create a legacy of prosperity for everyone who lives here."

Designated reserve land could be an area of cultural significance, such as a gravesite in the west end community of Glastonbury, Billy Morin, chief of the Enoch Cree Nation, told council in January.

The strategy still needs formal approval from council as a whole.

Urban reserves

An urban reserve can lie within or adjacent to an urban centre and in some cases, formed because a municipality has grown around a First Nation, the report says.

Canada has 120 urban reserves so far, from small urban centres like Portage La Prairie to cities like Vancouver.

The federal government must first approve an application to designate reserve land, under its Additions to Reserve and Reserve Creation process.

The city can then negotiate agreements with a First Nation to provide municipal services like water, waste collection, fire and police protection.

The participating First Nation would likely pay the municipality for these services, in lieu of taxes.

In preparing the strategy, city administration looked at other municipalities with urban reserve plans, including Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, North Battleford, Brandon and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Mayor Don Iveson called it a tremendous opportunity and a long time coming.

Many chiefs of the Treaty 6 nations have talked to him about the urban reserve idea, Iveson said, "looking for opportunities to create employment and looking for opportunities to advance reconciliation, including economic reconciliation."

"Also to be partners in building this city — and that's exciting."

Iveson said he hopes it doesn't take long for First Nations to propose projects and sites under the new strategy.