A sod-turning ceremony took place Thursday in Saskatoon to mark a milestone for the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.
Once constructed, the two-storey development on the Asimakaniseekan Askiy urban reserve will be occupied by Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority’s (SIGA) new head office.
“As a city, we’re glad that SIGA calls Saskatoon home and runs the operations from this place, from this site, the first successful urban reserve in Canada at 30 years on Oct. 2,” Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said.
“Sixty-five per cent of (SIGA’s) 1,800 staff are First Nations and Métis, and many of those young people … We know that employment for that population is a key part of our future and to build success so that’s a great thing.”
The new building on Aspen Place in the Sutherland Industrial area will bring Muskeg Lake’s total developed space to 185,031 square feet.
“We’ve had a relationship with SIGA since 2003 in our urban reserve here. A smaller footprint of course, somewhere in the order of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet,” said Murray Westerlund, board chair of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation Investment Management Corporation.
“This (building) represents a 50,000-square-foot addition to our asset base on the urban reserve here. We now have approximately $130 million worth of asset value, land, and building value on this piece of land … and we’re slowly running out of land. We have less than 10 acres left now to develop.”
Westerlund said they have returned around $7.5 million directly to Muskeg Lake band members since 2011.
“Those resources are used in our community to off-set areas where there’s no funding and a good example of that is our sports, culture and recreation. We get zero funding,” Muskeg Lake Coun. Paul Ledoux said.
“We have 2,200 members, we have a lot of youth in our community and outside of our community so we’re able to be able to provide assistances to do sports, to do the music, to do the arts so that’s a huge thing for our community.”
It was almost 30 years ago to the day the partnership between the City of Saskatoon and Muskeg Lake formed to create Canada’s first-created commercial urban reserve.
“It was the thinking of our previous leadership back in the 80s, kind of thinking outside the box, and knowing that economic development was a very important factor to our community to prosper,” Ledoux said.
“It started in 1984, when this land here was identified and then the work started with the City of Saskatoon and the federal government. This was never done before, and so it was new.”
In the years since, Muskeg Lake established a separate board of directors to oversee the business that ensures stability and security for investors.
Westerlund said another huge project at about 65,000 square feet is going to start very soon.