When I say urban reserve, what do you think of?

When asking people this question expect a multitude of responses. While there may not be right answers, there are certainly wrong ones that are misperceptions and fallacies. I truly do understand the need to rebrand urban reserves as economic development areas (EDAs) and now, as I alluded to in my first post, will look at New Zealand as a shining examples of aboriginal success in implementing EDAs followed by underlying assumptions that inhibit aboriginal economic progress in the Canadian context.

The Base is a great example of how the Maori in New Zealand have built an economic base for their community and brought benefits to the whole surrounding area. The airbase was built on Waikto-Tainui land that was confiscated prior to World War 2 and was returned as part of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu settlement in 1995.[1] The Base began in 1998 as the Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) took ownership of the decommissioned airbase. Shortly thereafter TGH signed a joint venture with The Warehouse Group, a major shoe retailer in New Zealand. Plans were drawn up and construction began on the massive retail centre which today is valued at around 100 million dollars. There are plans to essentially make The Base a town center out of the development including healthcare, offices, and hotels to serve the entire population. This is what success in a Canadian context can look like.

However, there is an important difference between aboriginal populations and europeans in that business and business development are viewed differently in both communities. Business from a european perspective is an individual endeavour that is built on the right to private property, whereas aboriginal business is viewed as a community project on a belief in collective ownership. Quoted from the TGH website as part of their vision statement “In our view there is immense potential to fully utilise Maaoridom’s asset base by pooling resources and expertise, and as with TGH, what benefits Maaoridom will ultimately benefit the whole community.”[2] Within this statement, and larger narratives of aboriginal vision, is a view that inevitably leads a scrutinizing observer to see as anti-capitalist in that development and wealth are viewed as means to better serve the community than as an ends into themselves. That being said, not all europeans view development and wealth as the end goal and not all aboriginals have an anti-capitalist vison.

For instance Manitobah Mukluks is an aboriginal owned company that has recently outsourced some manufacturing to China. Clearly this doesn’t align with an anti-capitalist vison in the way that I suggested yet the dominant narrative is still community oriented and outsourcing will produce more capital for the community to spend. And while I am highly critical of this decision, I am not limited to criticizing Manitobah for choosing the outsourcing route as many other companies have followed the same route such as Heinz and Kellogg’s to name two. Therefore, as my classmate suggested, why should aboriginal companies be held back from achieving the material success that european companies do?

A second underlying assumption is that aboriginal culture views all things holistically as everything is inter-related.[3] This is contrasted to the european instrumental view that everything can be utilized for a purpose. Europeans fundamentally do not understand the aboriginal spiritual attachment to the land nor do they understand the traditional ways of life which are now in conflict with european values and lifestyles. These two views ultimately manifest themselves and lead to prolonged conflict on such issues as resource development and management.

Needless to say aboriginal EDAs are one way to solve the problem of persistent poverty on reserves. It should come as no surprise that repercussions of colonisation have created a festering wound on Canadian identity that need to be resolved in one way or another. When looking at places such as New Zealand it is easy to find solutions to the broken system that exists in Canada. EDAs are one step in the right direction and will hopefully overcome the barriers mentioned; thus leading to greater self-determination for aboriginal communities.

[1] http://www.te-awa.co.nz/?id=407

[2] http://www.tgh.co.nz/default.asp?sid=4&cid=20&aid=

[3] http://www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/abori1.html

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Urban Reserves: Common Misperceptions and Quiet Success

When people first hear the label of urban reserve they likely think of it in a negative light and visualize some kind of poverty stricken ghetto. In reality there could be nothing further from the truth. Urban reserves are an opportunity for aboriginal groups to do what the rest of Canadian society takes for granted; that is have a chance at being economically successful. Not surprisingly aboriginal groups have recognized the negative stigma associated with the term urban reserve and have now decided to call such land economic development areas (EDAs). Hopefully this blog post will remove some of the misperceptions in this often controversial issue (at least in Manitoba) and build support for the framework that is so successful.

Before building support for the idea of EDAs, there needs to be some fact finding about what this label actually means. First and foremost an EDA is often a commercial area within a city that operates businesses and uses the profits to support the rural reserve with amenities that the rest of Canadians take for granted. Services such as running water, roads, electricity, and healthcare are some services that are supported through these businesses. Often people do not understand that such basic services are unavailable on some rural reserves. EDAs can also include housing arrangements as people from the home community are encouraged to work at the businesses operating on the reserve land.

Do aboriginal businesses pay taxes? Aboriginal groups and individuals are required to pay the same taxes as other Canadians. The only exception is when the transaction or employment is on reserve land which, under section 87 of the Indian Act, stipulates that aboriginal personal property on reserve land is tax exempt.[1] In an EDA this means that property, sales, and income taxes will not be collected. However, being on reserve land means that aboriginals are not included in the services that the city would normally provide for taxpayers such as sewer and water, fire protection, among many other services. To overcome this obstacle, aboriginal groups have negotiated service payments with the municipalities where the EDA is situated to provide the same government services for a cost. Generally, the payments that are negotiated are comparable to what would be paid in property and other taxes had the business and land not been on reserve.

So how does land become reserve land? In 1997 the Canadian government, Manitoba government, and The Treaty Land Entitlement Committee signed the Treaty Land Entitlement Act to compensate aboriginal groups which never received the land that was included in treaties. In order to gain land, the Treaty Land Entitlements Act gives aboriginal groups the right to purchase designed surplus lands from the crown and a fund for purchasing privately held land at market value. The claim for land then moves through the additions to reserve process to be designated as reserve land.

Has this been a successful process? Yes. Saskatchewan has been touted as a leader in the area of EDAs and has the oldest EDA established in 1988 which has been a boon to the Saskatoon economy employing around 400 people and bringing millions of dollars to the local economy. Manitoba can learn a lot from the success of the Saskatchewan leadership on this issue and hopefully see through the myth and misperceptions to fully embrace the idea of economically successful aboriginal peoples.

On my next post I will look into specific cases in Manitoba and New Zealand to compare and contrast the process and progress that each has chosen to take.

David Scammell

[1] http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100013800/1100100013801