Saskatoon's city council held a signing ceremony with Saskatchewan's largest First Nation to establish an urban reserve in the city on Monday.
The Lac La Ronge Indian Band owns the property at 211 Wheeler St., home to Canada North Environmental Services (CanNorth), a private environmental consulting company that is owned by Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership, the First Nation's business arm.
"The intention is to establish the urban reserve in Saskatoon to ensure the Lac La Ronge Indian Band members who are studying science, technology, engineering and maths at the post-secondary level have a landing place upon completion of their degree," Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said in a news release.
She was joined at the ceremony by Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners chair Jyotsna (Jo) Custead, as well as members of Saskatoon city council and Lac La Ronge Indian Band council.
The signing ceremony is one step on the way to designating the land at 211 Wheeler St. an urban reserve. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)
The City of Saskatoon says about 30 First Nations in Saskatchewan have established they either did not receive the reserve land to which they were entitled when they signed their Treaty, or that reserve land was subsequently taken away from them.
An urban reserve is land within a city that has been purchased on the open market by a First Nation and granted reserve status by the federal government.
Clark said he believes the turnaround time on this urban reserve agreement was one of the fastest ever.
"We have seen urban reserve agreements provide great value to both the First Nation and the City of Saskatoon, offering employment opportunities, strengthening partnerships and fulfilling Treaty Land Entitlements. These investments in our city help create prosperity for everyone and are a model of good partnership and co-operation," Clark said.
Urban reserve status brings the property under the jurisdiction of the First Nation. As a result, city taxes and many city bylaws will not apply to the reserve land and, instead, the First Nation will be in charge of the taxes. However, federal laws such as the Criminal Code will continue to apply.
Ironswing, a First Nations drum group, opened the signing ceremony at Saskatoon City Hall on Monday. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)
The Lac La Ronge Indian Band has a population of about 12,000 and is composed of six reserve communities and 18 separate reserve lands.
Cook-Searson said there are about 80 scientists working at CanNorth.
Ty Roberts worked as an environmental scientist at CanNorth for a year after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan. He said he was left confused by the concept of income tax on land owned by a First Nations company.
"I didn't understand at the time. The band owns Kitsaki; Kitsaki owns this company; but I was paying income tax. I just didn't get it. I couldn't wrap my head around it," he said.
Ty Roberts worked as an environmental scientist at CanNorth. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)
Roberts said when he came back to La Ronge to act as the lands manager, he made the necessary moves to clear the path for an urban reserve.
Following the signing with city council, the agreement heads to the federal government for final approval.