Urban Reserves Are a Proven Success in Saskatchewan

Article excerpt

When the time-tested bannock recipe was passed from mother to daughter, who could have known it would play a central role in a highly successful restaurant business?

Nearly 20 years later, Micsotan, the Cree word for "eat," still makes fresh bannock and home-cooked meals daily, caters to large crowds, and employs family members and many local young people.

But what truly makes this a stand-out success, beyond the mortgage-free home and lakefront property of the owners, is the restaurant is located on an urban reserve in Saskatchewan.

Utter those two words in Manitoba -- urban reserve -- and you're in for a debate over a little-understood and often maligned economic development concept intended to help First Nations become economically self-sufficient.

Of course there is ignorance out there, with some people thinking "urban reserve" means an "urban ghetto," with its associated poverty. But if economic success stories from across Canada are studied, it is through partnerships between First Nations and municipalities that significant economic progress is achieved, for all parties involved.

Saskatchewan, with 49 urban reserves across the province and many more pending, is the first place to look should Manitoba want to examine urban reserves, their outcomes and their potential.

Chief Cliff Tawpisin of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation said the urban reserve established in Saskatoon has generated jobs and wealth for both communities and, importantly, has fostered trust that is a critical component of the ongoing working relationship.

Urban reserves, after all, are not relocated versions of remote and northern communities, but specially designated centres for economic growth within urban communities. Some are as small as a single lot while others can be parcels in the eight- to 14-hectare range.

In these economic zones, opportunities to build real wealth and equity are created, rather than the old-school focus on easy-come, easy-go cash. Importantly, urban reserves also have the potential to create new jobs and business-investment opportunities in previously disregarded or underdeveloped urban areas.

Think of the downtown business improvement zone and the urban reserve concept isn't nearly as intimidating. Or consider China's special economic zones, which were created to speed the transition into a capitalist free-market system. Where these zones exist, economic growth flows.

Paul Ledoux is the CEO of the Muskeg Lake Economic Development branch and has witnessed the benefits first-hand. …