Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Reserve towns are not as prevalent on the Canadian Prairies as reservation towns are on the U.S. Plains. However, the recent development of urban Indian reserves is unique. In 2000 there were fourteen urban reserves in Saskatchewan, one each in Manitoba and Alberta, with more in the planning stage. The number of urban reserves in the Canadian Prairies will continue to increase.

Following the treaty process (1871–77), many reserve surveys allowed for the development of village sites. Churches and the Hudson's Bay Company, for example, often secured lots on reserves, and over time small villages grew around them. Non-Indian town sites on alienated reserve lands were established as a result of the land rush accompanying the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many Indian reserves within the railway belt were subject to expropriation for railway right-of-ways or to accommodate growing municipalities. The town of Hobbema (population 9,000), for example, is situated on lands once reserved for the Samson First Nation in the Bear Hills (Maskwacîsihk), Alberta. The reserve was surveyed in 1881 but a few years later fell within the reach of the proposed Edmonton-Calgary line. Reserve lands were expropriated or surrendered to accommodate the line and siding (train station landings and town sites).

Often urban pressures resulted in the loss of entire reserves. Papascase First Nation was surveyed in 1884 well beyond the city limits of Edmonton, but the railway line and the urban explosion soon targeted it for future development. Within a few years most of the band members enfranchised (withdrew from treaty), and their reserve was surrendered. The Mill Woods area, south of 51st Avenue and north of the Tourist Information Centre, sits on the surrendered Papascase reserve. Often First Nations surrendered reserves after relentless pressures from government officials and local settlers; sometimes the legalities of the appropriations were questionable.

In Saskatchewan, very few reserves were established near settler villages and towns largely because federal Indian policies for the Prairies were developed to facilitate clearing the fertile region for railway and settlement and to suppress First Nations' resistance to treaties and their demands for the creation of a large Cree-Assiniboine territory in the southern Prairies. The Plains Cree movement was crushed in 1885, and the disbanded dissenters were removed to small, isolated reserves north of the railway belt.

More recently, urbanization and economic diversification trends have precipitated First Nations' investments in urban properties. Currently, there are two types of urban First Nations landholdings: those subject to municipal jurisdiction like other private holdings, and those that have been converted to Indian reserve status, now referred to as urban reserves.

The process by which lands are converted to reserve status is defined by two instruments: section 9.3.2 of the 1987 Additions to Reserves Policy of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and article 9 of the 1992 Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement, a comprehensive land claims agreement between Saskatchewan First Nations, the federal government, and the province of Saskatchewan. Both instruments were precipitated by First Nations' specific and Treaty Land Entitlement claims. Once transformed into Indian reserves, urban reserves are subject to the Indian Act and have the same legal status as rural Indian reserves: they are held in trust by the federal government, fall under First Nations jurisdiction, and are exempt from municipal and provincial taxation and most laws.

While formal agreements between First Nations and municipalities are not required, they are encouraged and are becoming the norm. Comprehensive agreements between First Nations and municipalities address a range of substantive issues: the application and enforcement of provincial and municipal laws and their compatibility with First Nations bylaws; compensation for lost tax revenue; First Nation taxation jurisdiction over Indian and non-Indian residents; service delivery (for example, sewage, water, garbage disposal) to urban reserves; and dispute-resolution mechanisms.

In January 1997 the Centre for Municipal- Aboriginal Relations (CMAR) was created by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Indian Taxation Advisory Board. cmar serves as a clearinghouse and resource center and undertakes applied research in the area of municipal-Aboriginal relations.

See also NATIVE AMERICANS: Reserves.

Winona Wheeler Saskatchewan Indian Federated College

Barron, F. Laurie, and Joseph Garcia, eds. Urban Indian Reserves: Forging New Relationships in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing, 1999.

Tobias, John L. "The Subjugation of the Plains Cree, 1879–1885." Canadian Historical Review 64 (1983): 519–48.

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