Doig River hosts ground breaking for urban reserve in Fort St. John

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Doig River First Nation marked Indigenous Peoples Day with an urban reserve ground breaking in partnership with the City of Fort St. John on Tuesday.

”Our nation is breaking ground,” said Doig River Chief Trevor Makadahay at the Naache Commons opening on Gat Tah Kwa.

The future development is expected to host commercial and residential space across from Margaret Ma Murray Community School. 

“We want to do something that fits Fort St. John’s needs as well,” said Doig River Band Manager Shona Nelson who added a gas station could be the first building constructed.

“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 and have a good lunch,” Nelson said.

The first nation is excited by the project coming to fruition after years of work.

Makadahay said relationships were key to shortening the timeline for Naache Commons which is part of an ongoing collaboration between local government and the first nation.

At the ceremony, Mayor Lori Ackerman said Fort St. John has “blazed the trail for other communities.”

Ackerman says she’s already been contacted by other B.C. communities to discuss how city council and staff worked with the first nation on the project.

The mayor also addressed Margaret Ma Murray Community School students in attendance.

“You’re going to be able to say I was here on this day to celebrate this momentous occasion in Gat Tah Kwa,” Ackerman said.

At the event, elementary students spread a message of kindness by joining in with a song in the Beaver and English languages.

But the sound off children singing will likely soon be replaced with construction equipment. Although there is no completion date for Naache Commons Makadahay hopes it will be complete as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the chief says the ground breaking in the city represents an economic opportunity.

“Through the Indian Act and being on a reservation that’s outside of town you don’t get those opportunities and it’s the first in B.C,” he said.

While this is being considered the first urban reserve expansion of its kind in the province, Doig River is already starting to plan further expansion on other lands purchased by the first nation.  

That includes hundreds of acres near Old Fort where the first nation continues work with the Peace River Regional District. Doig River hopes there could be a cultural centre and possibly even an RV park on that site.

In the meantime, Doig River and other community members celebrated the monumental step forward and Indigenous Peoples Day with a barbeque, drumming and actives on the future home of Naache Commons.