When Swan River and Sapotaweyak Cree Nation first began talks in 2010 to set up an urban reserve, the Parkland town’s council had no idea how to proceed.
It needed to learn about what Treaty Land Entitlement was, and how to honour it, and what would be involved to convert a parcel to reserve land, says Swan River Mayor Glen McKenzie.
Sapotaweyak’s council had more resources and was better informed about the process, he said.
“But there was nothing for us to follow,” he said, adding his council had to hire legal advice before drawing up an agreement with their First Nation’s neighbour.
It ultimately turned into a win-win agreement, he said. Sapotaweyak built a small gaming centre on the site. The enterprise created a dozen local jobs for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents. It spurred economic development for both their communities, said McKenzie.
“It’s been a plus for everybody,” he said.
A newly released resource aims to explain how that process can work between other municipalities and First Nations too.
The Treaty Land Entitlement Tool Kit, unveiled earlier this month in Winnipeg, contains resources such as a Community Accord template plus detailed information about Treaties, Indian Reserves, Treaty Land Entitlment and Canada’s Additions to Reserves process as well as a frequently asked questions section.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities, the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba and the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee (TLEC) of Manitoba committed to putting the document together two years ago after signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) — called Widokodadiwin, meaning ‘we all work together.’
The purpose of the tool kit is to clearly explain how the Treaty Land Entitlement process works and how it can help bring economic development and growth to communities, say First Nations and municipal officials.
“With constant electoral changeover at the municipal and First Nations level, the need for ongoing education on the Treaties and the Treaty Land Entitlement process cannot be overstated,” said TLEC president Chief Nelson Genaille.
Joe Masi, AMM’s executive director agrees. This will help to educate municipal leaders about the Treaty Land Entitlements and why they must be honoured, Masi said.
“There are reasons why these agreements are in place, historically,” he said.
As the tool kit points out, some municipalities arose within the traditional territory of a First Nation or within a previous First Nation settlement area; Treaty Land Entitlement provides the opportunity for First Nations to re-establish access and jurisdiction within their previously held areas.
“A big part of this is to educate our membership and First Nations on the importance of these agreements so that they’re done in a way that’s collaborative, mutually respectful and allows both parties to feel good about the process in the end,” said Masi.
Some municipalities have already gone through the process. Other urban reserves in Manitoba include Long Plain at Portage la Prairie, Swan Lake at Headingley, Nisichawayasihk at Thompson, Birdtail Sioux at Birtle and the Long Plains First Nation urban reserve in Winnipeg.
McKenzie said the tool kit should help answer some of the questions his own council had when talks first began with Sapotaweyak.
“It should be a good starting point,” he said. One of the first matters that arises is taxes, McKenzie noted, adding that what their two communities worked out was a service agreement whereby Sapotaweyak pays to Swan River the equivalent in property taxes.
“It’s assessed like any property in Swan River but instead of calling it tax, it’s a service fee, ” he said.
The tool kit was released during the Municipal Officials Seminar in Winnipeg in mid-April and has received the endorsement by both Eileen Clarke, provincial minister of indigenous and municipal relations and federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett.
In a statement Bennett described the document as “reconciliation in action.”
“The Treaty Land Entitlement Information Tool Kit is a great example of what can be accomplished when we work together towards the same shared goal,” she said in a news release.
Clarke said the tool kit will foster stronger relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, and help highlight the shared economic opportunities made possible through the TLE process.