Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why urban reserves?

Why should the reserve system not only continue, but also spread into Canada's cities? Proponents say that Aboriginal peoples received the land by treaty and that traditionally everything was held in common. Therefore, none of them should "own" such territories.

However, these arguments don't stand, especially in the case of Regina's first urban reserve, granted to Piapot First Nation. It was not acquired under treaty land entitlement, but as a special claim. These are not traditional lands. Secondly, the urban reserve itself is a counter-cultural invention, as the following quote from John Desjarlais, a member of Piapot demonstrates.

"They were never used to stuff like this. In the old structured, cultural, traditional ways they were bound to a reserve, right to the band at the band level, said Desjarlais. "But now they can give their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren something to look forward to."
Truth told, this "tradition" is only as old as the reserve system itself. But if aboriginals can break with this tradition to create an urban reserve, why shouldn't they actually own their land? The reason bands go this route is because of the tax breaks. For this reserve, and every other, they're great indeed.


The Beast said...

I thought I'd offer a balance to what the canadian tax payers association has posted. Unfortunatly the view they've presented is slanted and biased.

Lack of Tax: The Social Issues Surrounding the Piapot Urban Reserve
The general perception of North Central seems to be one of concerned indifference as the knowledge that this place exists here by the residents of Regina, but is avoided as much as needed. Bob Hughes writes in the Regina Leader-Post’s editor’s column about the creation of an urban reserve on the 1100 block of Athol Street in what is considered the outskirt of ‘North Central’. He goes on to state that his friend ‘Jarrod’ often warns him to "keep the windows up, the doors locked, and don't talk to any drug dealers or gang members" (Hughes) whenever he is in North Central. The hope of the Piapot First Nation is that they will be able to develop this empty lot into a positive example of economic and social value for the many Aboriginal Peoples living near by. Their plans include a grocery store, an office complex and a gas station – the reason this comes to a head as a negative possibility in the minds of some people is the role taxes play for the business.
The normal course of business includes taxes paid over to both the city and the province by each commercial endeavour located within the city. The creation of an urban reserve within the city limits nullifies these taxes paid out, rather an agreement is made to cover the costs normally covered by these taxes (Garbage, Water, Snow Removal) in the form of a grant to the city council. Currently there are no buildings or business on this piece of land and the undeveloped land is lacking in any sort of economic appeal having sat for so long as an empty lot. The lack of these services needed seems to indicate to me that the city of Regina isn’t receiving any sort of compensation for this land simply sitting there and will benefit from the creation of this First Nations economic development.
The Canadian Taxpayers Association fears that the businesses on the urban reserve will take customers away from other business in the area because of the lower prices charged to aboriginal peoples. They also state that the lack of tax will allow the First Nation run businesses to operate more economically as they will also not be charged tax on any gas or electricity they use. While their concern involves the possibility of the loss of taxes and economic impact it should also be noted that it is the lack of this development that is failing the neighbourhood. Often it is noted that the grocery store that isn’t near by would be a great help to the population that used to depend of ‘The Real Canadian Superstore’ that was located on the corner of Albert and Dewdney. Currently any residents have to travel over the Albert and Avonhurst to the Giant Tiger to buy their groceries. The convenience stores in the area charge higher prices for the simple necessities that people buy and force the small amount of money people have in this area to not last as long or be as well spent. For people with limited income this poses a problem as often transportation is also an issue and travelling to other parts of the city just isn’t a reality for them.
This economic development directed towards the idea is the Piapot’s answer to what is perceived as a growing problem within North Central. The lack of economic opportunity, little to no employment chances, and difficultly in obtaining proper services have all played a role in hampering the growth and sense of community in the area. There are other examples of urban reserves that have helped and brought positive changes to the aboriginal peoples including Saskatoon and the Muskeg Lake First Nation which now houses the “Saskatoon Tribal Council, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, a dry cleaning plant, an Aboriginal-owned trust company, a restaurant, a doctors office” (LaRose) and many other business. The Muskeg Lake urban reserve has set up a great example of what can happen to an area that includes and supports aboriginal run business.
The greatest fear right now seems to be the fact that people don’t understand what is behind the meaning of ‘no taxes’ in the context of the urban reserve. The possibility of the loss of business such as gas and cigarettes has been one of the concerns that’s being raised by the surrounding businesses. At this point it should be noted that it is the loss of the aboriginal business that is going to be missed as all other peoples must also be taxed regardless of whether or not they are on reserve or not. But this isn’t enough as the base idea of the lack of tax for some peoples simply strikes some people wrong such as David MacLean who states, "We believe it is unacceptable to have two sets of laws for two groups of people based on their ancestry,” (Scott). In spite of the Canadian Taxpayers cries of foul over the issues of taxation they fail to see the many positive benefits of an aboriginal owned and operated.
I understand that an urban reserve is going to benefit the local aboriginal population in many positive ways and jobs for Indians are going to be created, economic development is going to happen in North Central and very likely housing will be built. It has been proven by the lack of action on social issues such as education, housing, and employment that the various levels of government have been skirting the issues surrounding North Central and the aboriginal peoples. In an area that includes a high concentration of prostitution, gang activity, drug houses and alcohol abuse the idea that any initiatives that will have a positive impact in some way are being opposed is confusing to me. With a high percentage of aboriginals living in the area it seems natural that it should a First Nations that step in and take initiative to help out. Piapot First Nation has done what any chief and council of their people would do if they had the resources and guidance to reach out and help their people where they suffered.
While it isn’t an end all cure to what ails North Central it is a step in the right direction that will give a feeling of empowerment to some of the local peoples. It will not end the prostitution or the drug dealings gang members but it can be taken as a part of the whole that helps to change the perception of this part of the city. The future is going to depend of everybody doing their part and working together regardless of race or ancestry and old perceptions and ideas must be changed. In 2002 a senator named Herb Sparrow stated in reference to the possible creation of an urban reserve near in North Battleford that, “I’m opposed to any more reserves. Anywhere. They’re ghettos. We’re perpetuating ghettos in our province” (LaRose). But the main purpose of an urban reserve is for First Nations to achieve a higher level of economic self-sufficiency for their communities and governments. Aside from the issue of taxes and business benefits the urban reserve also has more potential for both increased employment opportunities for First Nations near the growing urban populations and also creates an environment for successful First Nations businesses to fully develop.
With an increased presence in the economic development of both the aboriginal peoples and the City of Regina positive changes can happen that include: reducing the dependency on federal funding, raising the standard of living for First Nations members, an greater ability to help with the social concerns surrounding First Nations peoples. For Regina benefits will include the increase in revenue from the service agreement and the need of professional services of construction and utilities for the urban reserve and finally the impact on the local real estate market as the property is developed. While it is difficult to predict whether or not employment would have happened without the creation of urban reserves it is noted that with the nineteen urban reserves in Saskatchewan an estimated 1,300 jobs have been created upon these reserves and the employment of status Indians has been the main focus of these positions. The taxation benefits for the aboriginal labor force isn’t the only reason an urban reserve may help improve the lives of urban aboriginals but also the lack of racial barriers may not be an issue at these locations. The local bands have a greater understanding of what it means to carry an Indian identity and all the problems that come with it such as fighting addiction, young families, alcohol and the host of other issues that are very much a part not being the dominate culture. Finally the reason I'd shop at an urban reserve store is because like many other Indians I live below the poverty line and need to make my little bit of money stretch as far as it can so that little tax break I get for simply being Indian on an Indian reserve is going to be a great help, (why am I below the poverty line? I’m a Student at FNUniv simply trying to make ends meet).

Lee Harding said...

Thanks for your comments and for keeping them respectful. It's worth taking a second look at the April 26 Leader-Post article, as many of your points were addressed there. Here, we state how there's gaping holes in the municipal services agreements that are supposed to recoup tax dollars and that the actual business ventures in North Central are to be welcomed.

Less welcome are the inequities of the arrangement, which is the crux of the issue. Whatever the historic wrongs have been concerning Aboriginal people, the saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right" applies here.

We believe that property rights for Aboriginals would be an improvement over the reserve system. The point of this post is that the cultural/historical arguments often used against actual ownership of the land don't actually stand in the case of urban reserves. Often Aboriginals insist that because historically everything was held in common, it should remain so today. Yet, comments like the ones cited in the article prove that urban reserves itself are a recent innovation that goes contrary to that tradition. This severely undermines the "culture" argument of reserve proponents. We believe it should go all the way and have people own land on the same basis as other Canadians. As it stands, the lands negotiated to native bands by treaty are still held in trust by the Federal government under the paternalistic Indian Act.

It's true that jobs may have been created on reserves, but this doesn't automatically mean the urban reserve approach is best. These lucrative tax advantages are part of the reason for their success. If only everyone could have them!

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