Edmonton moves forward on adopting urban reserve strategy following unanimous council committee vote

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Urban reserves may soon be developed in Edmonton to provide land and economic opportunities to First Nations communities.

Endorsed unanimously by council’s executive committee Monday morning, the city’s proposed urban reserve strategy would allow Indigenous groups to obtain lands and create resources and services for their citizens within Edmonton city limits. This could range from office buildings and industrial parks to casinos and hotels.

The Enoch Cree Nation, just west of the Edmonton, hopes to make a gravesite within city limits its first urban reserve. The site, in the city’s southwest next to Anthony Henday Drive and Whitemud Drive, is where Enoch’s first chief and other ancestors are buried and so the nation is looking to turn that land into a historical gathering site that it would take ownership of.

Mayor Don Iveson said advancing urban reserves will not only grow ties with the Indigenous communities in the region, but also support jobs and economic investment in the city.

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“This is an opportunity to support reconciliation and at the same time bringing investment, jobs and economic investment into our city. So that’s a pretty good opportunity,” Iveson said. “There are many First Nations and many chiefs in particular who I’ve spoken to, who are excited about opportunities to invest in Edmonton and many of them have. There are a number of businesses already owned in the city by First Nations and Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 and some of those may make sense to convert to urban reserves.”

First Nations groups would need to enter into agreements with the city for municipal services such as water, waste collection and fire and police protection. Research on existing urban reserve service agreements, such as in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, has indicated that most cities are able to recover what they would have obtained through property tax.

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Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker said this new strategy will create improved access to resources for economic development opportunities, greater connectivity and a better ability for communities to provide services to urban members.

“The strategy is intended to endure that all parties are working together collectively, which will assist in closing the physical distance between more remote communities and their nearest urban centre,” Watchmaker said. Urban reserves also provide increased economic growth, job creation, and goods and services to both the First Nation and the city or town in which they have a reserve. The urban reserve policy provides a good basis for successful communication and consultations between the city and a First Nation.”

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Urban reserves have been developed in communities across Western Canada for more than 30 years and there are more than 120 across the country.

If approved, the city would activate the strategy when approached by a federally-recognized First Nations community interested in developing urban reserves within Edmonton. Any financial impact to the city is expected to be absorbed within the existing operating budget. Eligible First Nations interested in developing a reserve still must do so through the federal government’s Addition-to-Reserve/Reserve Creation policy.

Council will vote on final approval of the strategy July 5.

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