By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Earlier this week it was announced that talks for an Urban Reserve inside Edmonton have been initiated and Edmonton City Council will be voting on a motion to start exploring the concept this month.
Enoch First Nation Chief Billy Morin reportedly approached City Councillor Sarah Hamilton about the prospect of the First Nation acquiring land within the city a few months ago.
Hamilton is now is putting forward a notice of motion that would have administration look at what it would mean for the city and its partnerships with First Nations.
Coun. Sarah Hamilton said, “It’s in consultation with Treaty 6 First Nations and other First Nations in the area. We have an opportunity to talk about economic opportunity, not just for Indigenous people in our province, but all people in our province. It could represent a pretty significant economic opportunity for the city and for First Nations.”
However, the idea for an urban reserve in Edmonton has been on the mind of Chief Morin for a long time. In 2017, Enoch Cree Nation and the City of Edmonton signed a memorandum of understanding which promised that they would work together on economic development and create the type of relationship Edmonton has with communities like St. Albert and Fort Saskatchewan. This is when talks of the urban reserve began.
At the time of writing there are 120 urban reserves across Canada, such as Muskeg Lake’s Asimakaniseekan Askiy which is located within Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Asimakaniseekan Askiy agreement was signed in 1988 and resulted in 36 acres of urban reserve in Saskatoon for Muskeg Lake.
Chief Morin said there’s roughly 80,000 Indigenous people within the city of Edmonton and they “feel like they don’t have a home sometimes, that they’re ostracized from the community,” Morin said.
Many had to leave home for job opportunities or services not available in northern or rural Alberta. Having a piece of land close to the city or within the city, some place they could call their own, would “be great for Indigenous people,” continued the Chief.
The First Nation already has plans for the land it would purchase: a gravesite where Enoch’s first chief and other ancestors are buried, located in the transportation corridor next to Anthony Henday Drive near Whitemud Drive.
“I think if we (go) down this road, we can get lost in bureaucracy, we can get lost in rules,” Morin said. “Those things do have to happen but for a gravesite where our ancestors are laid to rest, I think it’s a really strong act of reconciliation for the first urban reserve.”
He said that site would be a great pilot project that could set the stage for a larger development, like an Indigenous cultural centre, in the future.
“That precedent has been set in other provinces so this shouldn’t be something that scares people too much,” Morin said.
“There’ll be education that will be had over the next while … but ultimately we can look upon Saskatoon, Regina. And it is working over there. It is creating jobs, creating synergies in the community and creating reconciliation.”