Monthly Archives: May 2016

  • 0

Birdtail Sioux rail spur worth pursuing

Category:Land Designation,News

Article From The Brandon Sun.

“I think we’re ready now … This is the only chance we have, we can never do this again.” — Birdtail Sioux First Nation Chief Ken Chalmers

Later this year, members of Birdtail Sioux First Nation will have a second opportunity to vote on a railway development in the community that has the potential to open up huge economic opportunities for the band. That is, provided the band decides to act on it.

After spending several months in negotiations with the Canadian National Railway and the federal government, Birdtail’s chief and council asked the community to vote in a 2013 referendum on a plan to create a hub of economic development on the reserve.

The plan called for a two-kilometre stretch of track running along parcelled sections of reserve land — about 1,884 acres in total — that would be leased out to various corporate partners. At the time of the vote, several corporations had already lined up to get in on the potential economic benefits. Plans were underway to develop an oil terminal at the site to take advantage of what was, at the time, a growing Canadian energy sector.

Under the federal Indian Act, First Nations are unable to develop this kind of business park unless the land has been designated for the purpose of leasing. Due to the cumbersome nature of the act, achieving that kind of designation would often take several months or even years.

Prior to legislation introduced by the previous Conservative federal government, in order to designate any reserve land for commercial lease, a band had to obtain a majority vote from a majority of voting members — essentially a majority of a majority — for the federal government to approve the designation. If a majority of voters didn’t show up to vote, the band would have to hold another expensive referendum.

Thanks to the Tory changes, a First Nation can now green-light the lease of designated reserve lands upon the favourable vote of a simple majority of referendum participants, regardless of the number of people eligible to vote. It was this legislation that Chalmers was trying to capitalize on.

But that ambitious idea hit a wall of protest initiated by Idle No More co-founder Nina Wilson, who went to the reserve to drum up support for a “no” vote. And her efforts were successful. Out of more than 500 eligible voters, Chalmers says 121 residents voted against the plan, and only 62 voted in favour.

Idle No More organizers tied themselves to Canada’s environmental movement and opposed federal Conservative legislation that relaxed environmental regulations in favour of corporate interests. That movement essentially turned community opinion against aligning Birdtail with oil interests.

Only days later, Chalmers was defeated by former chief Kelly Bunn in a band election. As a result, the federal government was unable — or perhaps unwilling — to revisit the railway idea in the two years that followed until Chalmers was voted back in as chief last year.

Though the plan is now back on the table, there have been some changes. First, instead of bringing on potential businesses — such as those in the oil industry — before the community has its say, Chalmers says he merely wants the community to vote on whether to designate the land for leasing. Then the community will decide who they want to bring on board.

“We first designate it and with the community we’ll pick the companies that come and lease off us,” he told the Sun.

Secondly, Chalmers intends to make sure that band members — both on and off reserve — are fully aware of the plan and the upcoming vote in July, using every means at his disposal, including social media.

But this is the last chance for Birdtail members to get behind it, as there is a limited window of time for the residents to ratify the plan. We hope residents will see the value in voting in favour of the rail spur and the land leasing plan. If it goes forward, it will immediately open the reserve for business.

And that’s not only good for Birdtail, with new investment and future employment opportunities. That’s good for all the neighbouring municipalities, too.


  • 0

Birdtail Sioux ceremony in Foxwarren marks end of long land transfer process

Category:Land Designation,News

Article From The Brandon Sun, By EVA WASNEY

FOXWARREN — While most of Westman was enjoying recordbreaking temperatures, a different kind of historical moment was being celebrated in Foxwarren on Thursday afternoon.

Roughly 75 people attended a ground blessing ceremony at the town’s old school site to mark the end of a decade-long addition to reserve (ATR) process for Birdtail Sioux First Nation.

“I’m really ecstatic, I can’t really put it into words … I didn’t know how to feel after 10 years,” Birdtail Chief Ken Chalmers said.

Birdtail’s chief and council first applied to acquire the eight-and-a-half acre plot of land off Highway 16 in 2005 and the land transfer was officially approved by the federal government on April 22.

On Thursday, community members from Birdtail and Foxwarren gathered under a big blue and white tent for the hour-long ceremony, which included a smudge, a drum song and a blessing by Sioux Valley First Nation elder Harold Blacksmith.

Dignitaries at the event included several chiefs from nearby Dakota First Nations, representatives from the Manitoba branch of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and ArthurVirden Progressive Conservative MLA Doyle Piwniuk.”

Prairie View Municipality Coun. Roger Wilson was on hand to congratulate Birdtail and welcome new economic development into the RM.

“We’ve had population decline in the last 30-ish years in Manitoba … we need to reinvent how we do business in this part of the world and we think will be a fantastic opportunity to open those doors,” Wilson said, adding that the municipality has been on board with the plan since it was first proposed 10 years ago. “It’s frustrating (and) it baffles me how it can take this long.”

In Canada, any First Nation interested in accumulating more land must conduct stakeholder negotiations with nearby communities and all levels of government, complete an environmental assessment and outline the legal description of the land before its application can be approved by Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

Birdtail is one of five Manitoba First Nations that have not signed a treaty with the federal government and Chalmers believes that status played a role in the length of the ATR process.

“That did have an effect because we’re in Treaty 4 country (which covers Southern Saskatchewan and part of western Manitoba) and this is their territory, but we know this is our territory,” he said. “It took the Department of Justice three years to work out the details with the treaty bands.”

Chalmers also attributes the ATR’s approval to a recent faceto-face meeting with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett in Toronto.

“I put a lot of passion into it,” he said. “It sat for two years on the minister’s desk in the Harper government and it should have been signed off three years ago.”

Birdtail has already started renovating the interior of the Foxwarren school and Chalmers hopes the proposed bingo hall, VLT centre, restaurant and gas bar will be open for business later this year.

“We’re pushing it for November … we’ve got to work at the speed of business,” Chalmers said.

Birdtail is putting $1.25 million of its earnings from other business ventures toward the renovations and the project will also be supported by private investors and federal funding, according to Chalmers.

Once built, Chalmers says the gaming and hospitality complex will create jobs for Birdtail’s young people and provide a source of revenue for housing, social programs and education — the chief estimates the development will bring in $200,000 per month for the First Nation.

“We have a vision … The work begins now,” Chalmers said.

ewasney@brandonsun.com » Twitter: @evawasney