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Urban reserves successful in Saskatoon, mayor tells forum

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison


Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison

IF you'd like to see the success of urban reserves in Canada, look no farther than Saskatoon.

The city christened its first urban economic development zone in 1988 and the relationship between civic officials and the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation has benefited the First Nations community and the city, said Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison Wednesday.

Muskeg Lake doesn't pay taxes, but its two urban reserves pay a fee for services to the city, he said.

"They're building in our community and they're economic generators. They have given a lot of people an opportunity to have a job, to have a home, to raise a family and have better economic conditions. With that comes better education and that leads to better jobs and a better environment for everyone," Atchison told a lunch crowd at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café.

Several First Nations in Manitoba are awaiting word on a potential urban reserve at the vacant Kapyong Barracks in south Winnipeg.

The plans, however, have proven to be controversial as opponents have voiced their concerns about such an entity setting up in the area.

A big challenge for urban reserves is dispelling the myths they'll be full of overturned vehicles and stray dogs, said Coun. Harry Lafond from Muskeg Lake.

"We were there to do business and to create wealth for ourselves. We were there to fit into the community and not stand out in a very visible way," he said.

Muskeg Lake officials recognized they couldn't move into Saskatoon and be isolated from the community, so they spent five years doing public relations, which included visiting city councillors to explain their plans and holding community meetings to answer questions from future neighbours.

"In order for this to happen, things had to change, attitudes had to change. We were responsible for leading that change together," he said.

The businesses on Saskatoon's urban reserves are office buildings, gas stations and specialty retailers.

Atchison said he doesn't know why any city wouldn't want to give every citizen an opportunity to succeed. "If anyone in your community fails, it hurts everyone. If everyone is succeeding, they're all in a different mindset. In Saskatoon, we want everyone to succeed," he said.

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