BU report outlines potential of urban reserves

Study suggests urban reserves provide benefits to both Indigenous and municipal stakeholders, particularly youth requiring job-skill advancement.

A report released Feb. 28 by Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute (RDI) suggests urban reserves provide potential economic benefits for Indigenous people in Manitoba.

The results of the study Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy was officially unveiled earlier this year. The study includes a focus on how the First Nations community impacts the Westman region and how urban reserves may hold advantages for the economic wellbeing of Indigenous people.

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“Urban reserves provide job opportunities for First Nations people, particularly those living off-reserve,” RDI director Bill Ashton said in a news release outlining the studies results.

“We found that 69 per cent of First Nations people in southern Manitoba live off reserve. As well, urban reserves are an opportunity for remote First Nations to set up businesses in locations with a larger customer base. Surrounding municipalities benefit too. The First Nation pays for municipal services on the urban reserve and urban reserve workers pay property taxes and spend money in the urban center whenever they are living and shopping off reserve.”

The report’s results showed that existing urban reserves allow Indigenous people to contribute to Manitoba’s economy. In 2016, that contribution included $9.3 billion in spending, 3.9 per cent to Manitoba’s gross domestic product total (GDP). This percentage is greater than contributions made by other economic sectors such as manufacturing and hospitality.

Because Indigenous populations are young and growing, the RDI report says there is even more potential for growth. Currently, aboriginal people represent about 18 per cent of Manitoba’s population. Locally, 23 per cent of children aged 14 and under identify as Indigenous. Jobs developed and sustained by urban reserves are an opportunity for those youth to garner job skills integral to long-term employment.

“Our youth are our greatest resource, but they need opportunities,” Gambler First Nation Chief David LeDoux said.

“Urban reserves are an opportunity for us to earn our own revenues which we can then re-invest back into the community in the form of health services, education, social and cultural programming, housing and infrastructure. The Anishinaabe mindset is that we must plan for seven generations into the future. To do that, we need to have self-sufficiency and self-determination, to have the freedom to invest in language programming, skills development and more for our young people.”

The Gambler First Nation is one of 10 Manitoba Indigenous communities in the province developing a total of 17 urban reserves. There are eight urban reserves currently established in Manitoba distributed evenly between the north and south areas of the province. The economic impact includes the development of gas bars, convenience stores, VLT lounges, cannabis stores, hotels, grocery stores and office space.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak partnered with RDI in the report’s creation. Researchers from each organization conducted interviews with leaders from seven First Nation communities to determine how their urban reserves succeed, the challenges they encountered and future development plans.

“This project was an opportunity for relationship-building and working together. Urban reserves provide that same opportunity for municipalities and First Nations,” Ashton said. “Relationship-building is at the heart of reconciliation.”

Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy can be seen at BrandonU.ca/RDI/Projects/Indigenous-Economy.

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