It had come up several times before at City Council, but the issue of donating land in the southeast quadrant of the city for a proposed Battlefords First Nations Heritage Park finally received a vote at the council meeting Monday.
The proposed plan calls for the development of a tourist site next to the Yellowhead Highway to highlight the history, culture and traditions of the Cree, Lakota and Salteaux First Nations. The proposed location of the facility is to the west of the Western Development Museum and to the east of the Gold Eagle Hotel and Casino and the CUPlex. Attractions at the park include what would be the world’s largest covered tipi, a 2,000 square foot stage for performances, a 4,000 foot pavilion to display First Nations artifacts and items of historical significance, a powwow arbor and a trading post.
Another planned aspect of the park is a “uniquely designed overpass” for pedestrian and light vehicle traffic providing access to a deep ravine leading to the North Saskatchewan River. There are also plans to put walking trails and rental cabins into the ravine.
Finally, the plan calls for the eventual creation of boat launching docks to connect the site to Fort Battleford.
According to the report submitted to council, the total budget of the project is $8.5 million. The city of North Battleford is being asked to contribute $500,000 in the form of a land donation, and the federal and provincial government are both expected to contribute $2 million. The remainder of the cost will be made up by participating First Nations, corporate and private sponsorship and contributed labour, equipment and construction services.
The motion to transfer lands had been originally moved by Councilor Grace Lang and seconded by Councilor Ray Fox before it was tabled at the June 25 council meeting over concerns about conflict of interest. At the July 23 council meeting, city council received a legal opinion from Lindgren, Blais, Frank and Illingworth about the potential conflicts of interest involving Councillor Ray Fox and Mayor Ian Hamilton.
Trent Houk had claimed that neither Hamilton nor Fox should be associated with matters involving the Battlefords Tribal Council or any organization associated with them, because of their connections to BTC. Hamilton has done and continues to do work on a contract basis with organizations related to the BTC and Fox works for the NorthWest Professional Services Corp, a non-profit corporation that provides professional services for member First Nations.
The opinion given by the law firm stated Hamilton would not have any conflict of interest due to his “contractural relationship with an independent firm which does work on behalf of an organization related to the Battlefords Tribal Council.”
The lawyers also opined that Fox would not have a conflict of interest other than if there were a council decision directly concerning NorthWest Professional Services Corp. Even then, the lawyers stated, there would not necessarily be a conflict of interest.
The decision means that both Fox and Hamilton would be allowed to vote on the proposed Battlefords First Nation Heritage Park land transfer.
The legal opinion provided to council did not sway Trent Houk,
“I certainly appreciate what was put together here for us…but I don’t get what he’s saying. To me, no matter what, I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about this, and whether there is or not [a conflict of interest], I’ve gotten a lot of calls from the public. If it was me, I think for the better of all I would leave the room and not participate in the discussion.”
The decision was again deferred to the next meeting pending more information from City Manager Jim Toye and a tour of the lot to be given for the park.