Dignitaries from far and wide congregated at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) campus in Regina to mark a historic event Wednesday.
The lands where FNUniv resides are now an urban reserve, thanks to a signing ceremony and nearly 20 years of hard work by various parties.
Former Star Blanket Cree Nation chief Cliff Starr first started the negotiations in 2002. Current chief Michael Starr signed the documents on Wednesday on behalf of the band.
“It means so much, it’s been so long,” Michael said after the ceremony.
“The journey has been really educational, I’ll put it that way.”
He said the band and all signatory parties have had to do many things to make the urban reserve a reality.
The band negotiated with FNUniv, the federal government, the University of Regina, the City of Regina and CIBC to create the urban reserve, which is named atim kâ-mihkosit, or “Red Dog” in English.
Atim kâ-mihkosit is the name of a former chief of the Star Blanket Cree Nation, according to a news release handed out at the ceremony.
The new urban reserve is the first of its kind in Canada made specifically to serve an educational purpose. The new urban reserve is 32.05 acres, according to the release.
Starr said now that the land has been acquired, he wants to see some more economic development opportunities arise in the future.
“Apartment buildings for our students, possibly, is one example,” he said. “But that work has to be together, and we’ll work together in a good way to find those solutions and help our people as well.”
He noted that FNUniv is mainly an educational institution and the Star Blanket Cree Nation will continue to honour that going forward.
Treaty rights in action: FSIN, AFN
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron both attended the gathering.
Both called Wednesday’s ceremony a representation of Treaty rights in action.
Cameron said the momentum won’t stop now that FNUniv is on Indigenous lands.
“If I know chief Mike Starr and your council and your band members, the people that put you there, your elders and ceremony people, it’s not going to stop with this university,” he said.
“One day, we’ll see daycares, we’ll see apartment buildings for the students that are coming here.”
He also noted how the Treaty Land Entitlement process made the acquisition of FNUniv lands possible.
In 1996 the provincial and federal government agreed on the Treaty Land Entitlement process as a way to resolve disputes with bands did not receive all of the lands they were promised through the numbered treaty documents.
“Treaty Land Entitlement is a debt owed. It’s a Crown obligation, it’s owed to First Nations people,” he said. “Getting all this land back is just part of that original treaty.”
FNUniv on Indigenous land is a powerful symbol: ministers
Minister of Indigenous Services Canada Seamus O’Regan and Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale were both present on behalf of the federal government.
Goodale said having FNUniv on Indigenous land is a powerful symbol of progress and achievement.
“It’s a day to celebrate. It’s a day to remind ourselves that there’s a lot more left to be done,” Goodale said.
O’Regan’s flight from Toronto was delayed due to weather but he showed up just in time to sign the documents making the urban reserve status official.
After the ceremony he said it was a “big day” for everyone involved.
“This place has always had tremendous significance, not only here in Saskatchewan, but right across the country,” O’Regan said.