In Our Words: Indigenous presence, urban reserve could boost area

Flin Flon’s future could hinge on how we can connect with Indigenous people and communities. In order to do that, the community needs to help Indigenous people and entrepreneurs as much as possible.

It seems like that’s starting to happen.

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In last week’s strategic plan released by the City of Flin Flon, one of the dozens of key action items listed caught my eye – item 4.d., to be specific. That item, in the “Effective Government” section, reads one of the city’s future goals as follows: “Create more awareness and education on effective partnerships with the surrounding Indigenous communities.”

That’s a good goal to have. We’ve all heard how Flin Flon may have a future as a service hub, as a place to shop, a place for government services or health services for people from nearby communities (many of which are First Nations or have heavily Indigenous populations) that don’t have what we do.

We’re living at a time where Indigenous voices in Flin Flon are getting not only louder, but more prominent. The current city administration are doing their part, little by little. Last year, councillors approved the first-ever partnership between the city and a First Nations-run group when the City of Flin Flon got involved with One North, one of the companies behind the purchase and reopening of the Hudson Bay Railway.

I’m still not entirely sure how the city went almost 90 years without at least signing one agreement with an Indigenous group, but hey, overdue or not, it’s a start.

Talk is cheap. Running a community, a business or an industry is expensive and it requires action.

There is another step toward having a positive Indigenous business presence. Why not pursue a deal with a northern First Nation to have an urban reserve in Flin Flon?

That’s an idea that appears to be working in Creighton, where the Petro-Canada and Tim Hortons are operated by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and features a heavily First Nations staff. That business seems to be doing just fine.

I’ve heard it said that it might not work because there aren’t many Manitoba-based First Nations nearby. Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) and the City of Thompson agreed back in 2010 to have an urban reserve in Thompson – a four-plus hour drive away. Distance doesn’t seem to have any impact there.

There’s no lack of Indigenous communities within that distance of Flin Flon. Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN), OCN, Mosakahiken Cree Nation, Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, Chemawawin Cree Nation, Misipawistik Cree Nation, Cross Lake First Nation and Norway House Cree Nation are all within 400 kilometres of Flin Flon and I’m sure a partnership made in good faith between any of these communities and Flin Flon would help everyone involved.

Earlier this month, a report from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute showed (as far as I can tell, for the first time) the economic impact Indigenous people have in Manitoba and the North. It’s a huge net positive for the area.

How much spending do Indigenous people in the north do every year? According to the report, $1.9 billion or about a fifth of our region’s economy. There’s a market there. There are people on the lookout for goods and services there, and it would be foolish to not try to pounce on that.

Future of Hudbay aside, Indigenous people are going to be the motor that keeps this place going, but people don’t come to spend money where they don’t feel welcome, or where there’s nothing to buy. We’ve got to cover both bases.

We, as a town, can continue to talk a good game about wanting to work with Indigenous people, communities and reserves. However, without any sort of concrete action, that talk is just talk.

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