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Municipalities First Nations join forces with an agreement designed to speed up the pace of treaty land settlements.

Municipalities, First Nations join forces to speed up land settlements – Manitoba’s municipalities and First Nations joined forces Tuesday with an agreement designed to speed up the pace of treaty land settlements, cut red tape and lead to the rapid establishment of urban reserve arrangements profitable to everyone.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the Association of Municipalities of Manitoba (AMM) and two First Nations groups commits both sides to share information and accelerate procedures to settle claims — nearly 20 years after a framework agreement signed by provincial and federal authorities pledged to do virtually the same thing.

Both sides said Tuesday’s accord should kickstart a long-stalled process of settling claims and getting down to setting up businesses.

“I believe it is historic, as municipalities are often left out of the loop in dialogues between First Nations and other levels of government,” Manitoba Treaty Commissioner James Wilson, responsible for promoting awareness of treaties, said in an email after the signing.

“This not only recognizes the role they play, especially in development of urban reserves, but allows us to work together to make things easier for both municipal and First Nations governments.”

AMM President Doug Dobrowolski said First Nation economic success stories were being “held up by the federal process.

“By signing this agreement, we hope it will show the other two levels of government that we are willing to sit down and get these TLE (Treaty Land Entitlement) deals done,” he said by telephone.

According to a study issued last week by the Aboriginal Economic Development Board, It takes an average of four years to cut through federal and provincial red tape on paperwork for land development, compared to six months to a year for municipalities.

And that, aboriginal leaders say, leads to lost economic opportunities.

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Cutbacks to federal survey budgets have slowed the process across the country, but Manitoba faces additional challenges of competing Metis land claims.

Under the 1997 TLE agreement, Manitoba First Nations are owed 1.1 million acres (440,000 hectares, nearly the size of Prince Edward Island) as set down in treaties sometimes dating back more than a century. A federal process set up back then put First Nations to work with provinces and Ottawa on the settlements and to date about 473,000 acres (191,416 hectares) have been converted for 14 out of 15 Manitoba First Nations. Another six First Nations hold additional outstanding claims.

Small but successful examples of urban reserves have been operating on Winnipeg’s outskirts for years, with the Swan River Arboc Gas and Smoke Shop in Headingley and the Roseau River Red Sun Gas Bar and Smoke Shop on Highway 6, off the Perimeter.

A few weeks ago, Long Plain First Nation opened the first reserve-owned gas station within city limits. It owns another urban reserve gas station and conference centre in Portage la Prairie.

Six First Nations that have the right to purchase land within municipalities are the ones that stand to benefit from Tuesday’s deal.

“It’s a demonstration, that First Nations and municipal governments are working together to expedite the land purchase process,” Chris Henderson, executive director of the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee, one of the two First Nations signatories on Tuesday, said by telephone.

“Hopefully Canada will reduce the amount of red tape it takes to create reserves, Henderson said of the deal Tuesday.

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