Urban reserves create spaces for Indigenous businesses to thrive, help cities survive

Twenty per cent.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/07/2018 (1485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Twenty per cent.

That’s almost all I’ve heard about with the announcement of Winnipeg’s partnership with Peguis First Nation and the creation of our second urban reserve.

“When you create a deal that gives one group a benefit and everyone else has to make up the difference, that’s not fair,” Todd McKay, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation told my colleague Aldo Santin.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS City officials have negotiated an agreement with Peguis First Nation to establish an urban reserve at 1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and local business owners also expressed similar concern.

The issue is that Peguis will pay 20 per cent less municipal taxes than surrounding businesses. This amount will be paid by the province for five years. Then the agreement will be re-negotiated.

Certain critics seem to think the city got fleeced.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. City officials have negotiated an agreement with Peguis First Nation to establish an urban reserve at this location.

This is hardly the case.

For three decades, urban reserves have been an economic juggernaut.

Simply put, urban reserves turn the Indian Act, the most draconian legislation in Canada’s history, on it’s head. Using the worst elements (those that ensure First Nations stay mired in poverty), urban reserve advocates have created spaces where Indigenous businesses can thrive.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson, above, foresees further development of the land at 1075 Portage Ave. in five years with plans for offices and condos.

Based in urban environments, First Nations have used outstanding land claims to buy land and convert property into reserve spaces that are administered by the Indian Act but operate in financial agreements with municipalities.

This solution has not only resulted in wins for First Nations but has saved cities and towns across Western Canada.

For a long time cities have been barren sites for First Nations. They have been places where we have ended up, often cut off from our communities and cultures, many times in the same – and even worse – poverty we left at home.

Now though, cities can be more than this.

Almost 40 years ago came a solution to two problems.

The first was that First Nations were owed land via exploitative treaty agreements and under control of the Indian Act, fixed in dead end economic situations on reserves. One of the only paths out was to escape the financial dependency created by the Department of Indian Affairs.

The second problem was that cities were dying.

In the early 1980s, Canada was hit with a massive recession, with the Bank of Canada interest rate hitting 21 per cent and inflation at 12 per cent. That added up to dying economies in urban spaces, particularly on the Prairies.

In Saskatchewan, two First Nations offered solutions to nearby municipalities: why not make a reserve in your community?

Their argument was simple: we have funds, we need land, and we need to set up businesses to gain income for our community.

The municipalities needed consistent, continual investment and commercial development.

It was a win-win.

Just like that, urban reserves were born.

And, at the same time, a trend ended.

Cities were no longer sites of economic endings for First Nations. They were beginnings.

Since this time, more than 100 First Nations have entered into urban reserve agreements and are located in cities such as Saskatoon and Vancouver. Saskatchewan has 54 of them.

Here in Manitoba we have four urban reserves, including one in Winnipeg.

Now, two.

Here, we have a resistance to urban reserves. Why? There are some nefarious reasons, but mostly it’s ignorance.

Urban reserves are the most economically and socially progressive solution to one of Canada’s oldest problems.

That problem?

Canada can’t give up trying to control Indigenous peoples.

This brings me back to the 20 per cent.

The 20 per cent less Peguis is paying is being made up by the province.

It’s not a reduction at all. The city is receiving the same taxes as it would receive for any business in that space.

The province is making an investment in a solution for everyone.

Peguis has resided and invested in 1075 Portage Ave. – a space very few in the business community wanted – for years. It has renovated it, it has brought in tenants and that means jobs and money for all of us.

In fact, Peguis is one of the most important investors in this city. When businesses left and gave up on Assiniboia Downs, Peguis bought it.

Peguis has invested in this city for a long time. Most Winnipeggers are surprised when I tell them they have eaten in a restaurant, visited a hotel, or drank a drink from a company Peguis invests in or has invested in.

Peguis also supports operations in Selkirk and Hodgson (check out the Home Hardware). It has partnerships with banks and is a part of the Kapyong settlement, in which a huge economic development will take place.

Peguis runs a grocery store and restaurant that all support industries in Winnipeg.

Now, as the urban reserve is established, Peguis will pay 100 per cent of all city services such as water, policing and garbage and recycling pickup – the same as any other business.

That’s guaranteed income for the city.

In five years, Peguis will develop the land. At the announcement, Chief Glenn Hudson predicted further offices and condos.

1075 Portage Ave. will be worth considerably more.

Urban reserves established in Saskatchewan have seen an increase of 2,000 per cent value.

One piece of land worth $750,000 in 1984 is worth more than $20 million now – not only resulting in increased land values but more investment, employment and revenue for all.

That investment is worth far more than 20 per cent.

No one complains when governments give tax breaks to sports teams and corporations – and athletes and CEOs usually take their money and spend it elsewhere.

This isn’t even a tax break.

It’s a break even.

And a rejection of 150 years at the same time.


Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.


Updated on Monday, July 23, 2018 9:44 PM CDT: Fixes typos.

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