Notable Impact of Urban Reserves and Saskatoon

April 25, 2016

The first urban reserve in Canada was created in 1988 in the City of Saskatoon. The relationship between Saskatoon and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation (MLCN) was unique at the time but thankfully is no longer as urban reserves are becoming more common. Saskatoon now has five urban reserves and four Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) selections. TLEs are lands that have been selected and acquired with funds under the Treaty Land Entitlement (1992) Framework.

We spoke with Laura Hartney, Regional Planning Manager, City of Saskatoon about the then unique relationship between the City of Saskatoon and the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the beneficial impact of urban reserves. Laura also has some great tips for municipalities and for First Nations to consider when exploring the development of an urban reserve.




What was the level of support within the elected council of the City of Saskatoon?

The Mayor at the time was Cliff Wright (1976 to 1988), who was also asked to be the first treaty commissioner for the federal government, which is quite remarkable for a non-Indigenous person. Mayor Wright was a business man who had very good relations with the Indigenous community and a vision of economic inclusion of Indigenous people in the community. Mayor Wright created the inclusive culture that subsequent mayors, all elected officials, senior management and staff have followed.


Why was it important to support development of urban reserves?

In terms of Treaty Land Entitlement it’s an outstanding treaty obligation. It’s a wrong that needed to be rectified. One of the slogans of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner is “we are all treaty people” and that is one of the foundations for how we approach urban reserve development. This also fits within the Calls-to-Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We all have a role to play in reconciliation.

Another aspect is 13% of Saskatoon’s population self-identifies as Indigenous. TLE selections and urban reserves create significant opportunities for the Indigenous population. So, in terms of a municipality, if you could do something that would help 13% (and counting) of your population you would do it. There are significant spinoff effects across your entire community – it creates economic opportunities, more opportunities for business, employment, social and cultural development, opportunities to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and to really celebrate the diversity.


What about the surrounding community? What is the reaction to urban reserves and TLEs?

The MLCN reserve was raw land at the edge of the city in an area that was ripe for redevelopment. It brought new investment into the area and lifted the area up. All of the urban reserves and TLE selections in and around the City of Saskatoon are for economic development purposes so are commercial or industrial sites. The surrounding communities see what a difference these sites make and how they fit into the urban fabric.

Land use and development on urban reserve land is consistent with that of non-reserve land.  In terms of municipal services, we provide the same services to reserve land that are provided to other lands. In return we receive a fee for service that is equivalent to what the municipal taxes would have been. It’s absolutely a level playing field.


What tips do you have for other municipalities working with a First Nation on an urban reserve development?

  • Research the background on Indigenous cultures and issues and have an understanding of the history of Canada,  colonization, treaties and actions taken pursuant of the Indian Act, agreements and policies that are relevant such as the Additions to Reserves policy.
  • Be familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls-to-Action.
  • Be familiar with the cultural background, needs and priorities of the specific First Nations in the area
  • Offer cultural awareness training to all staff
  • Have champions of the project amongst the elected officials and senior management
  • Focus on common ground, goals and opportunities
  • Demystify the process by providing the community with facts about urban reserves and their collective impact - otherwise your community may be getting the information from what hits the national news
  • Remember that you are building a government-to-government relationship; First Nations are not stakeholders, they are rights holders
  • Find appropriate ways to communicate, build personal relationships, and build trust – sending a letter to a First Nation inviting them to attend City Hall at a certain time on a certain date is not appropriate; pick up the phone and call, arrange face-to-face meetings, consider meeting over a meal.
  • Avoid trying to build the relationship through a third (provincial) level of government; talk directly with the Nation


What tips do you have for First Nations embarking on their first urban reserve development?

  • Understand the roles of the various jurisdictions in the process (federal government, provincial government, municipalities)
  • Have a community plan and a business plan – understand your community priorities and try to match your plans with those priorities as that will dictate what type of land you want to purchase
  • Do a thorough investigation of the land you are interested in, ask questions, be sure the land in question fits with your plans; discussions with municipal staff are confidential
  • Contact the municipality early – sometimes there is reticence on the part of the First Nation as they are unsure of how they will be received.  Municipal staff is there to provide service and information for Indigenous and non-Indigenous developers, investors and builders
  • Ask questions such as:  What is the land zoned for? What are the plans for the area around it? Is it serviced? If not, what would that cost and when would it be serviced?
  • Make use of resources that are publicly available; many of these are free or low cost
  • Seek expert advice but be sure your experts are qualified; check their references
  • Look closely at your budget – land purchase is just one part of the equation


Laura Hartney, MCIP, RPP, Regional Planning Manager, City of Saskatoon

Laura is the Manager of the Regional Planning Section for the City of Saskatoon. The Regional Planning Section works with First Nations who are selecting land as Treaty Land Entitlement or creating Reserves in the Saskatoon region. The Section provides information to First Nations about the planning process, and helps negotiate compatible land use agreements between the City and First Nations. Laura is a graduate of the Regional and Urban Planning program at the University of Saskatchewan. Before joining the City, she worked as a community planner for the provincial government, the Rural Municipality of Corman Park that surrounds Saskatoon, and a private consulting firm. 


Here's some more good work Saskatoon is doing: ayisınowak: A Communications Guide is a really great example of a communications guide for local governments. 


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Topics: Indigenous relations, Indigenous economic development

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