Urban reserve 'a dream' of past Cega'kin leaders, says chief

Brady O'Watch said he hopes the place can have housing, a gaming centre, a hotel and other businesses.

Brady O'Watch said he hopes reserve can have housing, a gaming centre, a hotel and businesses

Chief Brady O'Watch said the urban reserve will have housing to help off-reserve members stay connected to their family and culture. (Submitted by Brady O'Watch)

Entering into a memorandum of understanding with the City of Regina marks a long dream of Cega'kin (Carry The Kettle) First Nation leadership. 

The MOU is about a large piece of land near the city the band purchased decades ago. Chief Brady O'Watch said the leaders at the time knew the city would expand toward it, making it a prime place to develop. 

After being elected in 2018, O'Watch said it was one of his priorities to start making the land into what they always hoped for. 

"It was a dream that a lot of our people always talked about," he said. "A  priority for myself as chief is to ensure that I could provide economic reconciliation not only with the City of Regina, but just for a lot of the employment for my membership."

The land that Cega'kin (Carry the Kettle) First Nation owns is located northwest of Regina. (City of Regina)

Housing to connect off-reserve youth to family, culture: O'Watch

O'Watch said he thinks the development would mean a lot to the urban membership of Cega'kin. He said he connects with what some are experiencing in Regina, because after turning 18, he moved to the city and lived there for some years. 

"A lot of the obstacles that we do face as Indigenous people sometimes can just be hard on the younger generations," O'Watch said. "You want to be able to provide opportunity for our own people, provide housing, provide jobs."

O'Watch said Indigenous youth sometimes aren't taken seriously in the trades or in the city as they're trying to further their education and careers. He said the development site would provide housing, jobs and a place people can be proud of and where youth can remain connected to their culture. 

"The whole support system is so important," he said. "We all talk about how important family is to our people and just to have that family, strong base of support to go home to in an urban reserve would mean a lot."

Upon the announcement of the MOU, O'Watch said he heard from many urban members who were excited. 

MOU to be discussed at city council on Wednesday

At the executive committee meeting on Feb. 3, Regina's councillors and mayor voted unanimously to approve the MOU. It will now go before city council on Wednesday for final approval. The memorandum of understanding isn't necessary, but city administration said it shows a co-operation to move forward on development. 

O'Watch said eventually he hopes the site will be home to a gaming centre, Indigenous-based health facility, truck stop, hotel, housing and businesses. 

He said it's a large undertaking, but before the pandemic he travelled to see what other First Nations had done — including the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino in Calgary and River Cree Resort and Casino in Edmonton — to learn from them as the First Nation moves forward. 

Many people have contributed to this over the years. So I'm just grateful for my team and grateful for people and their belief that this can happen.- Chief Brady O'Watch

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said she supports the proposal, and a warm and welcoming place for Cega'kin members would be a good development for the land. 

"They have a beautiful culture of kinship, and I think that's what's driving a little bit of this idea," Masters said. "A place of kinship and gathering and community culture and awareness." 

If all goes well, O'Watch said he hopes to have the land moving toward urban reserve status in March, with development possibly happening in the Spring of 2021. O'Watch said he would like to see development finished in a few years. 

"This hasn't been a short journey," O'Watch said. "So to see it actually take its first couple steps, I'm really proud."

"It's not just a one-, two-person show. Many people have contributed to this over the years. So I'm just grateful for my team and grateful for people and their belief that this can happen."