Saskatoon urban reserve celebrates 20th
A Saskatoon-based Indian reserve that has generated hundreds of jobs and has been cited as a model for similar urban reserves around Canada is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The 1988 agreement to establish Muskeg Lake Cree Nation's urban reserve on the east side of the city was one of the first of its kind in Western Canada.
Since then, dozens of First Nations organizations and businesses have set up on the 35-acre commercial reserve near the corner of College Drive and McKercher Drive.
There are offices, financial institutions, retail stores and gas stations.
"What we've developed over the years is something we're proud of. It's become quite a success for us," said Muskeg Lake Chief Gilbert Ledoux.
Most of employees are aboriginal people; some grew up on the home reserve about 93 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
"I'm getting some experience here," said Elinor Wuttunee, who works the steam press at Phoenix Dry Cleaning. "It's actually a good opportunity for young natives."
Former federal Progressive Conservative Indian Affairs minister Bill McKnight was involved in the early negotiations to establish the reserve and today a commercial centre there bears his name.
"When I became Treaty Commissioner, I was going to locate on reserve land, [but] there wasn't room," McKnight said. "That's how successful it's been," he said.
Initially, concerns were raised about jurisdictional issues between the city and the reserve. The band was not going to pay property taxes, but needed water, sewer, fire protection and other city services.
To get around the problem, the band started collecting its own tax and began paying an annual lump-sum fee to the city in payment for services.
The arrangement has become a template for other urban reserves around Saskatchewan. Groups from Manitoba and other provinces regularly come calling to see how the reserve works in Saskatoon.
More ventures are on the drawing board for Muskeg Lake.
The next project is a First Nations wellness centre that will specialize in diabetes research. Construction is expected to begin soon.