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.
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