Urban Reserve Strategy
Approved by City Council on June 28, 2021
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Urban reserves are expansions to reserve lands undertaken by recognized First Nations, typically within an urban area. Lands are acquired by First Nations and then converted to reserve status. The economic investment by the First Nation can often have a revitalizing effect on surrounding neighbourhoods. There are more than 120 urban reserves across Canada; the first being established in 1988 by Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatoon.
The City of Edmonton is excited to be a location that is being considered for urban reserves and looks forward to working with First Nations, Federal, and Provincial partners to understand the municipal role in urban reserve creation. This is an opportunity to learn and continue the journey of reconciliation.
An urban reserve is land designated as a First Nation reserve within an urban centre. Urban reserves are established by federally-recognized First Nations through the federal Addition-to-Reserve/Reserve Creation policy.
First Nations, as with all governments, desire to create economic development opportunities and provide services to enhance the quality of life of their citizens or preserve cultural linkages. First Nations need to ensure access to resources and services to their citizens, and today many of those services are offered most efficiently in centres such as municipalities. In some cases, First Nations also seek to acquire lands that have cultural significance. Urban reserves can greatly spur First Nations economic development as they allow First Nations to access economic opportunities that may be unavailable on existing reserve lands.
The City of Edmonton is responding to increased inquiries and calls for urban reserves, including Indigenous economic development opportunities and service provision by First Nations for their members in Edmonton. Additionally, the federal government has a newer, more streamlined approach to urban reserve creation and this may lead to more interest and inquiries.
First Nations and the Government of Canada play the primary roles in the development of urban additions to reserves through the Addition-to-Reserve/Reserve Creation process.
When it comes to the development of urban reserves, the City plays a role in relationship building and coordination in order to be supportive of this process. Municipalities are typically involved in providing services to the urban reserve lands through a municipal fee-for-service agreement, and may also play roles in community notification and in bylaw and land-use planning harmonization as the urban reserve is developed. Urban reserves are most successful when the municipality, First Nation, and local residents establish strong, proactive relationships.
Once an urban reserve is proposed for a specific parcel of land in the municipality, there will be a need for public engagement with the local community to help them understand the process and the services, bylaws, and land-use harmonization.
Other municipalities in the metro region may also be approached by the federal government and First Nations with the desire to establish urban reserves. The City of Edmonton is always willing to share information and respond to inquiries.
Urban reserves are established by First Nations through the federal Addition-to-Reserve/Reserve Creation policy at Indigenous Services Canada. At this time, we understand that this program is for First Nation bands as defined under the Indian Act.
The City continues to be open to conversations with Indigenous communities in Edmonton and the surrounding region to understand more about their aspirations for development within the city and ways they could be advanced. Queries should be directed to the Indigenous Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Strategy was developed by City Administration with input and direction from a Steering Committee. Committee membership included City employees representing a wide range of City departments with a potential role in urban reserve development and representatives of the City’s two First Nation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) partners: the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and Enoch Cree Nation. Representatives of Indigenous Services Canada working on the urban reserve program and representatives from Alberta Indigenous Relations served as advisors and provided information to the Committee.
The City’s MOU partners provided valuable insights and information from the perspective of First Nation governments who may seek to develop a future urban reserve. The Urban Reserve Strategy guides the City in its work with any First Nation establishing an urban reserve, not only with Enoch Cree Nation or member Nations of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations.
Experience has shown that urban reserves can bring many benefits to both the First Nation, and to the surrounding municipality and its residents. Urban reserves have been in place in many municipalities across western Canada, such as Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg, for years.
Any municipal property tax revenue previously generated by the specific land converted to reserve is usually recovered through a municipal services agreement at a comparable rate for the provision of services to the urban reserve. Surrounding neighbourhoods tend to benefit from the increased economic activity of the urban reserve. Urban reserves also have the potential to revitalize the surrounding areas. Finally, the creation of urban reserves is a tangible action of reconciliation and can foster positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and governments.
The City aspires to take a good neighbour approach and promote proactive relationship-building with First Nations around urban reserves. Various tools, such as MOUs with specific First Nation, can help address shared values and principles, communication protocols, services, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Ongoing efforts to build and sustain a working relationship as neighbours can help to mitigate disagreements and promote collaboration on questions of land use, service provision and bylaw compatibility.
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