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‘Economic reconciliation’: Naache Commons anchor Doig River development plans

New urban reserve celebrated in Fort St John: “It’s a real turning point for our nation in realizing our own economic destiny.”

UPDATE:

Considered an historic event, the Doig River First Nation formally celebrated its plan to begin developing an 8.1-acre section of property directly across from Fort St. John’s Margaret Ma Murray Community School.

Naache Commons is just the first step of building out the nation's new urban reserve called Gat Tah Kwą̂. The new addition-to-reserve (ATR) lands are spread across three parcels covering about 20 acres in the city and were officially added to Doig's land base following approval by the federal government in April.

For the community of Doig River, it’s been a long process to finalize the additions, with consultations and negotiations dating back to 2009. The new lands are planned to integrate Doig River into the city’s economy.

“We’re finally coming home," said Chief Trevor Makadahay. “Gat Tah Kwą̂ has been the name for Fort St. John for our people forever.”

In saying that, Makadahay acknowledged all the people before him that started the process, including former councils and elders who have since passed and who, he said, “were smiling down on today’s ceremony.”

Doig River First Nation manager Shona Nelson best described it as “the community never really left. They’ve always been here. They’ve just come back home.”

“This is probably one of the proudest moments we’ll have when we look back in 20 or 30 years from now,” said Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman. “That the City of Fort St. John and Doig River First Nation cleared the path to creating ATR land inside the Province of B.C.”

The agreement is considered the first of its kind in the province and it’s getting the attention of other communities who, Ackerman said, are calling her personally to find out the details.

“It’s something we can do to encourage reconciliation. It’s not the end all and be all. There is so much more to do.”

“It’s an opportunity with Fort St. John to strengthen our community. To prosper…economic reconciliation. So happy see the elders and the children (invited Ma Murray school students) celebrating the day,” added Nelson.

The day, not lost on the fact it is also National Indigenous People's Day across Canada.

“I am so proud,” said former band councillor Garry Oker on the development and the partnership formed. “It is the beginning of future prosperity for our community, both now and for our future generations.”

“That’s why we call it Naache Commons. Naache (in the Beaver language) is ‘dreamer.’ Commons is, of course, ‘business.’ So, the dreamers can come together and do business together.”

Doig spent more than $10 million purchasing several parcels in and around Fort St. John in tandem with its treaty land entitlement claim with the federal government. The lands, purchased fee simple, were then converted to reserve status through an application process with Indigenous Services Canada.

While not finalized, proposals for Naache Commons are for a mixed-use hub that could see a gas station, office and retail complexes, and new apartments being built.

The city and Doig River signed a memorandum of understanding in 2020 to guide the development and servicing Doig's land holdings, and formally signed a service agreement in 2021.


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ORIGINAL STORY:

Doig River First Nation will celebrate its new urban reserve in Fort St. John today.

Called Gat Tah Kwą̂, the new reserve lands are spread across three parcels covering nearly 20 acres in the city, and were officially added to Doig's land base following approval by the federal government in April.

Chief Trevor Makadahay says its been a long process to finalize the additions, with consultations and negotiations dating back to 2009. The new lands are planned to integrate Doig River into the city’s economy.

“Our original reserve was seven kilometres north of Fort St. John but our people always camped in Kin Park, down in Mathews Park. It was called Gat Tah Kwą̂,” said Makadahay during Doig Day celebrations last month. “We always had plans to come home. We did come home.”

Doig spent more than $10 million purchasing several parcels in and around Fort St. John in tandem with its treaty land entitlement claim with the federal government. The lands, purchased fee simple, were then converted to reserve status through an application process with Indigenous Services Canada.

Among Doig’s development priorities is Naache Commons, eight acres of land across from Ma Murray school planned for a mixed-use hub that could see a gas station, office and retail complexes, and new apartments. Naache means 'dreamer' in the Beaver language, and Doig has other land kitty corner to Naache Commons and near Old Fort planned for further industrial and commercial development.

“When it’s up and running it should be a seamless. You won’t know you’re on an urban reserve or in the city of Fort St. John,” said Makadahay. “It’s a real turning point for our nation in realizing our own economic destiny.”

The city and Doig River signed a memorandum of understanding in 2020 to guide the development and servicing Doig's land holdings, and formally signed a service agreement in 2021.

Mayor Lori Ackerman called the process “one heck of a learning curve” but one that she appreciated going through.

“It is significant in the sense that we’ve been told it’s the first intentional addition to reserve land in the province of British Columbia and we’re very proud of that,” said Ackerman. 

She says other Treaty 8 nations, such as Prophet River, also hold fee simple land in the city, while Halfway River and Blueberry River are looking for land as well. The city is excited to work them all, she said.

“Anyone who has fear in their heart about this kind of stuff happening, the First Nations have been here for time immemorial,” Ackerman said. “They’re not going anywhere, we should welcome their investment in our community.”

Today’s celebration will take place at Naache Commons across from Ma Murray school starting at 11 a.m. A barbecue lunch, drumming, and other activities are planned.

More to come.

— with files from Dave Lueneberg


Have a story or opinion to share? Email your letters to editor@ahnfsj.ca