Troubled North Central Regina has seen more than its share of bad news. The grim combination of Aboriginal poverty, drugs, gangs and crime moved Maclean’s to call it the “worst neighbourhood in Canada” in January 2007. That attention, however, seemed to spark a new attitude among residents and government. Since last year, a whole range of new initiatives have flooded the area. The latest is the opening of a new urban reserve.
Urban reserves offer natives the tax advantages of traditional rural reserves, but in downtown areas with greater economic opportunity. Canada’s first such reserve was established in 1988 in Saskatoon, and there are now approximately 30 across the province. Regina’s is the first for the city.
“Our membership is very excited about our new urban development,” says Piapot First Nation Chief John Rockthunder, whose main reserve is 60 km outside Regina. Creeland Mini-mart, the first business on the new downtown reserve, will start pumping gas and selling snacks on Nov. 6.
Rockthunder expects to hire 21 Piapot members to run the gas bar and store, and promises that profits will go to housing and education on the main reserve. Eventually, he hopes to deliver social programs for natives living in North Central. “Our priority is that we have to look after our own,” he says.
The initiative is not without controversy. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation opposes the mini-mart, arguing that it’s unfair to non-native businesses. The store’s native employees won’t pay income tax, and cigarettes and gas will be tax-free for native customers. “I welcome this new business to the area,” says Lee Harding of the CTF. “But the real issue is whether a tax system that discriminates on the basis of race is good for Canada.”