Better known as "urban reserves," the City of Brandon is inching closer toward having a First Nation Urban Development Area within city limits.
On Thursday, Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Terry Burgess signed a memorandum of understanding with the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce that affirmed their commitment to supporting aboriginal business development.
While the document didn’t explicitly cite support for urban reserves, Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce general manager Gloria Spence said that the potential for urban reserves in Brandon is "great," and would certainly fit the memorandum of understanding’s parameters.
"It’s an opportunity for the growth of economic development, not only with the indigenous population but also the City of Brandon," she said. "It’s a step toward self-sufficiency."
Burgess said that there are plenty of potential urban reserve sites in Brandon and that there are already some applications being worked on in the background.
The Brandon Chamber of Commerce’s leadership plans on introducing a policy within the next few days that will established the organization’s formal support for urban reserves.
During Thursday’s Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Victoria Inn, Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches shared his insight on urban reserves, urging the City of Brandon to follow suit.
Their Portage la Prairie urban reserve was first set aside in 1981 and includes gaming centres, a gas bar and office spaces, and will soon also house a medical centre.
The Winnipeg urban reserve was acquired in 2006 and saw a Petro-Canada gas station and convenience store open a couple years ago.
More than 200 people are employed between the two urban reserves, many of them First Nations, Meeches said, adding that while indigenous Canadians are more likely than the general population to be unemployed, increased opportunity does wonders to improve their situation.
Urban reserves can offer this much-needed opportunity, he said, noting that many of their employees are long-term and committed to their positions.
Meeches also suggested it’s strange that Brandon doesn’t already have an urban reserve and said that he would have already pursued a Long Plains First Nation urban reserve within Brandon city limits if not for the Treaty disconnect, with his community in Treaty 1 territory and Brandon in Treaty 2.
"The opportunity’s there, so why not take advantage of the treaty land entitlement?" he asked. "I don’t think urban reserves are the answer to all economic concerns of First Nations people, but they go a long way toward helping partner with the city (toward) economic growth (and) jobs for indigenous people."
Those at the City of Brandon appeared to have done some recent "soul searching" in their support of indigenous commerce, Meeches said.
The City of Brandon’s work with the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council, including the drafting of an Aboriginal Economic Strategic Plan 2015-2018, point to the city’s eagerness to work with area First Nations communities.
Work such as this is ongoing, Mayor Rick Chrest said on Thursday, noting that partnerships with area First Nations communities is "an area of mutual opportunity."
With the City of Brandon "heavily interested in economic development," it only makes sense that they’d partner with all parties that share this goal, he said.
"We’ve fostered very positive relations in that area that have really turned the corner in Brandon on First Nations relations and First Nations opportunity," he said, adding that urban reserves are one possibility moving forward.
While there’s still no timeline on when an urban reserve might take shape in Brandon, Meeches clarified that it can take anywhere from several months to several years to obtain the required land designations.
One 90-acre parcel that Long Plain First Nation owns in Portage la Prairie has been stuck in the system for about 20 years.
Still, he clarified that the City of Brandon’s willingness to welcome an urban reserve is a good sign moving forward.
Although urban reserves find affected land shift in jurisdiction from municipal to First Nation, both remain partners in what happens on the parcel through a Municipal Services Development Agreement — a document that outlines various things, such as reimbursements to the municipality in lieu of taxes.
This "fee-for-service" is calculated in exactly the same way as property taxes are, and includes any additional charges a municipal property owner might receive, such as local improvement fees.
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