The recent election of Terry Nelson to the leadership of the Southern Chiefs Organization seems obviously intended to push the establishment of urban reserves, regarded as a key driver to economic development. The SCO's plans are ambitious, and a close look at the hurdles involved in the land-conversion process would make most people throw in their cards. Hence, the selection of a man with a track record of dogged determination.
Most of the steps are to address the concerns of people who may fear waking up next to an urban reserve someday.
The first step is for an eligible First Nation (EFN) to acquire the land, which is not as simple as buying some vacant urban lot to develop. The purchase is governed by "willing buyer/willing seller" provisions, assessing fair market value and arbitration mechanisms, if necessary. There are third-party interests to keep track of, municipal-development service agreements to be negotiated and a dispute-resolution mechanism to be established. Most of this requires bringing three levels of government to work together quickly and co-operatively, usually the most difficult step of all.
Assuming the EFN has chosen land within a municipal boundary, immediate efforts must be made to develop and nurture a "good neighbour" relationship, to stress to the municipality the importance of learning aboriginal ways, outline what will be required by both parties and identify the resources that are available to both parties for support.
Then both parties have to figure out what the municipality will lose in taxes and arrange compensation for that. The EFN is obligated to pay those taxes until negotiations are complete. An environmental assessment and land survey must be done.
There are a lot of players involved in these deals, and each one must be clear what they are supposed to do and then they must do that. In Manitoba, the key parties are the governments of Canada and Manitoba, the EFN, affected municipalities, the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee and third-party interests. There are orders-in-council and ministerial approvals that have to be obtained all along the way.
The entire process can take a long time and is in constant danger of breaking down and having to start all over again in the same or a different location.
Nelson was able to speed up the process for Roseau River Anicinabe First Nation when he was chief there. And it wasn't necessarily because of a railway blockade -- Nelson was able to figure out which of the players was most suited to expedite the various tasks and he convinced the parties to do just that.
So the Red Sun Gas Bar, smoke shop, convenience store and VLT lounge out on Highway 6 at the Perimeter seemed to go up overnight. There are plans for a hotel, a car dealership, a pharmacy and other amenities First Nations people need on the busy road they use to travel back and forth between Winnipeg and northern Manitoba.
Long Plain First Nation has some exciting plans for its urban reserve on Madison Avenue. Capital investment is tight, so the SCO is sponsoring a conference in Winnipeg near the end of this month to bring in business leaders from Westbank First Nation in B.C. who have a successful track record in developing urban reserves to show investors the way.
The SCO has a comprehensive plan for the development of four urban reserves in or near Winnipeg that would generate $40 million in annual revenues with projected annual allotments to a community-development account worth $73 million in the first 25 years and a projected increase in value of the trust properties of $30 million. Grand Chief Nelson has a detailed business plan that should allay fears people may have about whether urban reserves will provide the benefits that First Nations leaders claim they will.
The seven First Nations that are located closest to Winnipeg want to get four urban reserves up and going as soon as possible. Nelson estimates each urban reserve will generate $40 million in economic activity annually.
With this kind of money in play, perhaps Nelson was right when he said, "We don't need the white man's money. We just need to develop the economic potential of our own First Nations."
Don Marks is the editor of Grassroots News.