Manitoba chiefs prepare for urban reserves
Last updated 3/15/2014 at 12:40pm
WINNIPEG, MB-At a conference on urban-reserve development, Manitoba chiefs began to take steps in a plan to develop urban reserves in and around Winnipeg.
The Long Plain First Nation Urban Reserve Conference set the stage for a promising future for First Nations in southern Manitoba. By the end of the conference, it was clear the next steps would decide the success of the venture.
Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches and Teddy Nelson of the Southern Chiefs Organization have a plan that will bring financial success to their respective First Nations. According to the plan, Roseau River, Brokenhead, Swan Lake and Long Plain First Nations own a combined 242 hectares of land in and around Winnipeg. This land, they want to develop into "hubs of commerce."
"I think it's a nice beginning for more discussion on urban reserves," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak told those gathered for the conference.
Nepinak's support is crucial in making the path straight between the federal and provincial governments.
"There remains a lot of misunderstanding about urban reserves in the greater community and a lot of positives can come out of this," Chief Nepinak told the Winnipeg Free Press.
"People think urban reserves are about tipped-over cars and skinny dogs, feral packs of dogs. But that's not the case," the chief told the newspaper. "There's an extensive trading economy across the continent and the issue for our purposes is: There is an opportunity here for foreign investment that benefits everybody."
At the conference, guests heard that these four parcels of land could bring in as much as $400 million annually in retail sales, $40 million of which would go back to the impoverished communities.
"This is not about problems," Grand Chief Terry Nelson told attendees. "This is about solutions. This conference is about throwing open the doors to the business community of Winnipeg," Nelson stated.
The conference looked at the success model of Westbank First Nation in British Columbia. Mickey Werstuik, a band counselor from Westbank First Nation stated that setting up a relationship that protects both is key to business success. His reserve owns probably the wealthiest urban reserve in Canada.
Werstuik made clear that it's taken Westbank 50 years to achieve what they have now.
Some 66 First Nations have approval from the federal government to manage their own lands. However, Westbank is unique in how much they've been able to achieve and the far reach of their authority which comes as a result of their self-government agreement and the amount of economic development they have achieved.