The City of Brandon has officially entered into a municipal development and service agreement with Gambler First Nation — a historic step forward on what could lead to the city’s first urban reserve deal.
The vision for the site — located at the corner of 18th Street North and Clare Avenue — is to develop a range of commercial options, such as a gas bar, convenience store, mini mall and hotel.
"I think this is an important day in the history of the City of Brandon," said Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre). "We’ve heard since the report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out … that local governments are on the front lines of reconciliation. As an urban centre, we are an opportunity for First Nations that traditionally have been pushed out of urban centres and into more rural and remote places, to build economic opportunities … and not be pushed off to the side anymore."
Jacqueline East, general manager of development services, said the deal offers many benefits for both parties.
"Cities like Saskatoon and Regina and even now Winnipeg … have many of these agreements with First Nations, and they’re real economic generators," she said. "So it’s really exciting for Brandon that we’re entering this new phase of being a bigger city and having that kind of agreement in place with a First Nation."
Gambler First Nation Chief David LeDoux said after seeing the success of other First Nations Urban Development Areas, it was time to bring it to Westman.
He told The Brandon Sun that the goal is to set up the site of nearly eight acres to ensure the youth of Gambler First Nation have a positive future and financial stability. Gambler First Nation is a small community located west of Binscarth, with a population of less than 300 people.
Gambler First Nation council approved the agreement earlier this month, and Brandon City Council voted in favour of it last night. The document sets the terms and conditions for the First Nation’s purchase of municipal services.
"From the very beginning of when we started talking with Gambler and when the negotiations began, the most fundamental premise is that Gambler wanted to be treated exactly the same as everybody else," East said. "You could call it a ‘no more, no less’ principle … In spite of it in some ways being two different communities, they want it to continue to be one community."
The deal includes the purchase of city services such as water/sewer, drainage, road system, etc.
Benefits to the city include revenue through development charges, as well as fees for service. It would provide increased amenities, create jobs and lead to economic spinoffs, East added.
"This is a very significant agreement. We certainly see a lot of developments come across our council desk here and this isn’t just another one of them," said Mayor Rick Chrest, adding it is significant in the sense it is their first opportunity to collaborate with a First Nation in this way.
In 2018, a development charge of $1.93 per square foot for commercial and $2,190 per residence has been agreed upon. In addition, the First Nation will pay a general services fee to the city, equivalent of property taxes, less the amount for services that the First Nation is unable to purchase (governance, finance, human resources, etc.).
The agreement would begin as soon as the lands are set apart as reserve. Another term of the agreement reflects the city’s desire to enjoy a long-term relationship with the First Nation that can only be terminated by mutual agreement or as a conclusion of a comprehensive dispute resolution process.
In the meantime, Gambler has been in talks with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and applied for an Addition to Reserve through the federal government, to have the lands transferred to reserve status.
Now that the development agreement has been set, the next steps can follow.
"The next step would be INAC to step in and fill out their process," LeDoux said. "They’ve been phoning us, and they’re all ready at the starting line, ready to go. So … it’s going to happen fairly quickly."
Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council has been involved in the planning, helping to ensure the right steps are being taken to create a positive relationship.
"I continuously use the word relationship, because it really does need to be looked at in that way," said Jason Gobeil, Aboriginal community co-ordinator with BUAPC. "It’s not just business, but it is definitely two levels of government and creating a beautiful relationship."
Gobeil said this deal is not only important for Brandon, but for First Nations looking to grow.
"Brandon has come a long way in the years of talking, to now we’re starting to see the implementation of these actions happening right at the grassroot level here too. It’s nice to see Brandon actually stepping up and playing a larger part."
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