In 1992, the federal and provincial governments signed an historic land claim agreement with Saskatchewan First Nations. Under the Agreement, the First Nations received money to buy land on the open market. As a result, about 761,000 acres have been turned into reserve land and many First Nations continue to invest their settlement dollars in urban areas.
In 1992, the federal and provincial governments signed an historic land claim agreement with Saskatchewan First Nations. Called the Treaty Land Entitlement or TLE Framework Agreement, it's had a transformative effect, both on the First Nations and on the landscape of the province as a whole.
“It's the beginning of a different world. An environment where we can have a decent place for economic employment opportunities; a decent land base to raise our children, and a decent place for our families to grow.”
Since the early 1700s, treaties were signed with First Nations; they paved the way for the peaceful settlement and development of much of Canada. The treaties reached in Saskatchewan included solemn promises to provide reserve land. However, many First Nations did not receive the full amount of land promised.
The Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement dealt with these broken promises, settling these land claims once and for all. Under the Agreement, the First Nations received money to buy land on the open market. As a result, about 761,000 acres have been turned into reserve land and many First Nations continue to invest their settlement dollars in urban areas.
“Everyone has benefitted. The First Nations have benefitted because they now have the land and they've been provided with funds to make up for the lack of use of that land, which they've invested in businesses, which they've invested in economic activity, which they've invested in their communities.”
Treaty Land Entitlement or TLE for short has certainly worked for the people of English River. The more than $10 million they received in their settlement has been used to set aside over 22,000 acres of land to date. That total includes a 197-acre parcel just south of Saskatoon—English River's first urban reserve.
“All of a sudden you have a First Nation that's got some financial resources from the TLE, so you get all kinds of people coming in for opportunities, knocking on your door. We had a guy come in and offer to sell us this property. We jumped at it because of the location.”
“More and more urban reserves are looking at, are being created in and around Saskatoon itself. I think the important part about that is that the aboriginal community sees that there's a tremendous importance in being in Saskatoon, that good things can happen here, that they're welcome here.”
“When we opened this restaurant, people were saying like, ‘you gonna go to reserve land? It's all native land.' And people were saying, ‘there's bad people there' and ‘it's not a good place to go. I came here two years ago, and it's the best opportunity I have ever seen.”
“It is a success story and what we have tried to do on these lands is also a success story. I have articles and letters to show that we are one of the ten leading successful aboriginal businesses in the country.”
The English River travel centre is a tremendous success. The First Nation notes that the gas station is the highest grossing Shell outlet in the province. A new office complex is leasing and there's a hotel under development. But the Council at English River has an even broader vision for the band's future…being a part of Saskatchewan's mining boom.
“All of a sudden we had an opportunity with what used to be called Tricon. They were doing some work up there and we decided to go do a joint venture with them. We did business good together and we ended up buying them out. The person that owned it is now our company executive officer for the last seventeen years. So, that's how we arrived at the purchase of Tron Power.”
“It's a win/win, yeah. It's been a win/win for English River in the fact that the company has been profitable for a number of years and has paid dividends back to the band, but now we've grown to hiring and employing 150 individuals, so it's really given a much more broader activity. Right now, we're doing upwards of $50-60M worth of construction. So without the TLE, that would never have occurred.”
“We have a reputation of doing good honest business. We conduct ourselves professionally. So, the word is out there that in the business community that English River First Nation is a good company to do business with.”
The success of TLE is remarkable. It's changed Saskatchewan's relationship with its First Nations people. And it's unleashed the entrepreneurial energies of the province's fastest growing population.
“We can't live in isolation. First Nations are part of the economy and when they are able to benefit from their own investment dollars, we all share in that benefit.”
“I talk about relationships because a lot of people seem to take the emphasis that it's us and them. It's not. It's together. And we accomplish so much more when we do that.”