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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Doig River First Nation (DRFN), in partnership with the City of Fort St. John, celebrated its new urban reserve on National Indigenous Day.

DRFN band manager Shona Nelson says Naache Commons, the new urban reserve, will be a “real opportunity with Fort St. John to strengthen the community.”

“[I am] so happy to see these elders and children together just celebrating the day,” said Nelson.

She explains that the first memorandum of understanding between the band and the city occurred in 2009. Nelson notes that the city was initially “a little nervous,” but they took the risk.

“We really appreciate the work that mayor Ackerman has done to champion this project. She’s had the vision, she shared it with us, and they just moved it forward,” Nelson said.

“Like every relationship, it’s got its peaks and valleys, but a strong commitment to working together [is needed] to make it happen.”

The celebration included a few words from Wilson, DRFN Chief Trevor Makadahay, and mayor Lori Ackerman.

Indigenous drummers performed, and students from Margaret Ma Murray Community School sang a song called “Tsúú Naa Yeh,” meaning be kind, thanks to an agreement signed with the school district to bring Indigenous culture and customs into the curriculum.

A tent was set up, which included raffle prizes, different types of art from the first nations, and information on Tse’k’wa, Beaver language, the future commons, and the history of DRFN.

The inspiration for this project was drawn from First Nations communities in the United States, Nelson explains.

“[They] saw that they were generating wealth for their people, lifting them out of poverty. I think that was their inspiration,” Nelson said.

“As [DRFN’s] band manager and someone who’s grown up in Fort St. John, it makes me pretty happy to see that our community is the first real urban reserve in British Columbia.”

The celebration on Tuesday took place on eight acres of the first nation’s land that was purchased in 2016 across from Margaret Ma Murray Community School.

Doig River First Nations has two more land parcels equalling 21 acres in the city.

“We’ll be looking for development programs, and we wanna do something that fits with Fort St. John’s needs as well. So, working with the community to identify where there are service gaps, business gaps, what could we do to enhance this community?”

Nelson mentions that the band has been engaging with members to determine their priorities. A gas station may be the first building to be constructed on the land, she adds.

“Hopefully, parents will be able to come here and drop their kids off at school, maybe go to yoga, have a coffee, do some shopping, have a good lunch, and have a great space that reflects the culture of Doig,” she explained.

“Our elders, we’ll be presenting designs with them, and they’re gonna tell us what’s in line with Naache, where dreamers come together here to do business.”

The nation also has 300 acres at the Old Fort, which they hope to use as cultural tourism lands to tie into the existing dam and highlight the band’s history.

The patch of land is two big fields that oversee the river. The first nation is working on this project with the Peace River Regional District.

Mayor Lori Ackerman says this is an “absolute fabulous milestone in reconciliation here in the region.”

She mentions the other first nations who have land inside the city, saying, “this is just that catalyst for more.

“That’ll happen after I’m gone but to have been able to be a part of this was very heartwarming.”

Ackerman announced last week that she wouldn’t be running for another term as mayor of Fort St. John.

“I will always be involved in the community, and I’m not retiring, I’m just shifting gears,” Ackerman said.

Chief Trevor Makadahay

With the celebration of the new urban reserve landing on National Indigenous Day, chief Trevor Makadahay mentions what the day means to him.

“Being proud of your heritage and sharing it with locals, and just having a celebration with everybody cause we have a lot of friends and a lot of relationships built over the years, and everybody wants to get together,” he said.

Doig River signed an MOU on the development and servicing of Doig River First Nation-owned land within the city in 2020 and a Municipal Services Agreement that ensures DRFN’s land pays for and receives the same services as other properties in 2021.

On Monday, Blueberry River First Nations and Doig River First Nation announced that members voted to accept and sign negotiated Treaty Land Entitlement settlements.

Each Nation’s Chief and Council will proceed with signing settlement agreements with the federal government and provincial governments of B.C. and Alberta, as well as with each other.

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Shailynn Foster

Shailynn Foster is a news reporter for Shailynn has been writing since she was 7 years old, but only recently started her journey as a journalist. Shailynn was born and raised in Fort St. John and she watches way too much YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ during the week while playing DND on the weekends.