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This article was published 13/4/2017 (1044 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There was great apprehension when the Town of Swan River first entered into talks with Sapotaweyak Cree Nation to turn an empty lot into urban reserve land.
Five years later, the First Nation has built a small gaming centre that employs 12 people and talks have begun on a second parcel of land.
"It’s been really nothing but positive," said Swan River Mayor Glen McKenzie.
On Thursday, an information "tool kit" was unveiled to help other municipalities navigate their way to similar economic opportunities with First Nations. The Treaty Land Entitlement Information Tool kit was drafted by the Manitoba government, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba. The federal government also had input. The tool kit, which is really a booklet that answers questions surrounding land agreements and streamlines what can otherwise be a complicated legal process, is expected to become a template for the rest of Canada.
"Everybody’s wondering what’s going on" when a First Nation looks to buy land outside its reserve, said Richard Dumas, vice-president of the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee. "We want to demystify misconceptions about urban reserves."
Chris Henderson, executive director of Treaty Land Entitlement, went as far as to call the Pallister government’s efforts drafting the document as "the other R word — reconciliation."
Henderson was referring to an aboriginal leader who recently called the Manitoba government "racist."
"With all due respect, let’s not focus on that R word, but let’s focus on the other R word, ‘reconciliation,’ and this document exemplifies a reconciliation effort," he said. Henderson added it is Brian Pallister’s stated intention to create more urban reserves in Manitoba.
Henderson said the tool kit will provide stability for continued land negotiations even when there is turnover in elected officials. The package includes a non-legal, non-binding accord that parties work through and that makes the final legal process much shorter. It also has a "frequently asked questions" section.
The tool kit will help create "opportunities in terms of new ways of working together and advancing together," Eileen Clarke, minister of indigenous and municipal relations, said at a press conference Thursday.
In Swan River, McKenzie said the Cree nation recently bought a second property and he is travelling north to Sapotaweyak next week to discuss making it urban reserve land, too.
"It’s really no different than any other economic development. You set up the service agreement and you get the equivalent taxes that would be paid on that property," McKenzie said. The only difference is there’s no education tax, which is not a municipal matter.
A formula to pay a proportionate share for RCMP services, the town’s biggest cost, is also built into the service agreement. "First Nations are still paying taxes, they’re just calling it something else," McKenzie said. The gaming centre employs both aboriginal and non-aboriginal staff.
However, the municipality cannot take over the property and sell it in a tax sale the way it can with privately held properties. What it can do is cut off sewer and water to the property in the event that service fees are not paid. It states that right in their agreement, McKenzie said.
Some First Nations have set up reserve funds to pay service fees when there is a shortfall, he said.
There are several urban reserves already in Manitoba, including in Portage La Prairie (Long Plain), Headingley (Swan Lake), Thompson (Nisichawayasihk) and Birtle (Birdtail Sioux). In Winnipeg, there is a Long Plains First Nation urban reserve on Madison Street.
Updated on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 7:44 AM CDT: Edited