A Cape Breton First Nations band has become the first in Nova Scotia to opt out of provisions in Canada's Indian Act relating to land use.
On Monday, Membertou joined a national First Nations Land Management Regime that gives it more control over land development.
Executive director Trevor Bernard said the change would boost the community's financial development. The move will let the community borrow money by using its land as collateral.
"The big interest for us is it will give us the ability to obtain long-term financing — more favourable terms from lending institutions. We can get longer term financing and it will ease some of the current restrictions for non-native businesses to be able to operate from Membertou lands," he said.
"I can't overemphasize the importance of the long-term financing piece for us. We'll be able to get much longer terms — 20 and 25 years — and that'll give us the ability to undertake larger projects."
The community has a reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship, but Bernard did not want to talk about specific projects it wanted to tackle.
"I'll give you an example without getting my council committed to anything. It's always been a dream of the community and the council that we get a sports arena. The development of a land code makes that a much more realistic possibility for us," he said.
Harper meeting First Nations leaders
Membertou is one of 18 bands across Canada that received the designation Monday. The announcements come one day before Stephen Harper meets with native leaders for the first time since becoming prime minister.
Membertou will now develop a land code and put it to band members for ratification.
The land code could take two years to develop.