Once a Canadian Armed Forces base in the middle of Winnipeg, the former Kapyong Barracks, now named Naawi-Oodena “centre of the heart and community” to become Canada’s largest urban reserve is set to become one of Canada’s newest and boldest urban reserves. The project is the culmination of over a decade of work by the seven Treaty One First Nations to have their rights as Indigenous nations and as treaty members honored. “It’s been a fight, but what’s really inspired me about this project was seeing the First Nations unify and come together with the city and the neighborhood,” said Wheland Sutherland, CEO of Treaty One Development Corporation and member of Peguis First Nation. “It’s brought back the essence and original intent of the signing of Treaty One on August 3, 1871.” The former Kapyong Barracks site is being developed by the Treaty One Development Corporation (T1DC), the administrative arm of the Treaty One Government. The Treaty One Government is a confederation of the seven First Nations signatories to Treaty One: Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Peguis First Nation, Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation, Sandy Bay First Nation, and Swan Lake First Nation. The 160 acres of land that make up the Kapyong Barracks site have been unused for well over a decade. The area was first occupied by the armed forces during World War II and was in use until the last battalion to be stationed there was relocated to Shilo, Manitoba in 2014. The Department of National Defense (DND) had originally intended to sell the surplus Crown land to the Canadian Lands Company but failed to properly consult with Treaty One First Nations. In response, four Treaty One First Nations, all with outstanding land entitlement claims, challenged the sale in court. The ensuing legal battle lasted from 2009 to 2015 and ended when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the DND had not met its duty to consult. This allowed the First Nations to negotiate a Comprehensive Settlement Agreement with the federal government that was eventually signed on August 30, 2019. As part of the agreement, the federal government would sell 68 percent of the Kapyong Barracks land to the First Nations and 32 percent to the Canada Lands Company. The lands sold to the First Nations are now in the process of becoming urban reserve land. Urban reserves are not new. Hundreds of First Nations have settled claims with the federal government through the additions-to-reserve process, which allows First Nations to purchase land from a private company and transfer it to their reserves. The advantage of urban reserves is their potential for economic development for First Nations whose main reserves are geographically and economically isolated. Part of what makes the Kapyong Barracks project unique is that it is located deep within an affluent area of a major metropolis. Most of the 120 urban reserves in Canada are in smaller communities or on the periphery of large cities. Those urban reserves that are within city centers tend to be smaller, as are Winnipeg’s two other urban reserves, one belonging to Long Plain First Nation and the other to Peguis First Nation. The size, legal battle, and location of the Kapyong Barracks project has attracted a lot of attention from the press and city residents. “We’ve had to deal with a lot of misinformation,” says Sutherland. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes out there.”
“It’s been a fight, but what’s really inspired me about this project was seeing the First Nations unify and come together with the city and the neighborhood, ” said Wheland Sutherland. Sutherland and his colleagues at T1DC have handled the scrutiny by prioritizing information sharing and community consultations. “Information sharing is key for us,” says Sutherland. “ “It’s about having a message that we’re here to help our people and to enhance the community. What better way to deal with the stereotypes than by providing as much information as possible and showing them that these zones are beneficial not just for the First Nations but the cities as well?” T1DC has been working with the Canada Lands Company to develop a master plan for the land for a year now. The plan was recently made public in October after extensive consultation with Treaty One First Nations members and Winnipeg residents. “We exceeded expectations in terms of public engagement,” says Tim Daniels, COO of T1DC and a member of Long Plain First Nation. “We feel accomplished that we were able to exceed expectations and do so on time in the midst of a pandemic.” Over 12,000 people have visited the Kapyong project website, 1,800 people have visited the project’s Facebook page, 1,015 Manitobans completed feedback surveys on the plan, and 813 participated in virtual sessions about the project. In addition, T1DC made multiple visits to each of the Treaty One First Nations communities to consult with community members, youth, knowledge keepers, and other key stakeholders to provide information and get feedback. Canada Lands Company has said that the Kapyong project has had the highest level of engagement of any project in their 25-year history. This is Indigenomics. According to Sutherland, all that effort will make for a seamless transition once it’s time to break ground. The project has already received positive feedback from local residents, many of whom are eager for construction to begin. The area will be unlike anything else in Winnipeg and will include a mixed-use village, commercial areas, low and middensity housing, community spaces, sports and recreation space, a cultural campus, and plenty of walking and biking paths. “We wanted to make sure that Kapyong was a safe and affordable place for people to live and shop and play and work,” says Sutherland. “This is a very Indigenous plan, even down to the streets,” adds Daniels. “Our planning team included an Indigenous design team whose job was to make sure Kapyong has the character of our communities. It was important that Kapyong remind us of home, that it have the plants, the medicines, and even the smell of home. It’s not your typical city space. There’s going to be pride in our communities that they can have a place to call home in Winnipeg.” While there is still a lot of work to be done, T1DC has proven the value of Indigenous ways of doing business. Their approach to the site has been grounded in the values of prosperity and partnerships, community, identity, sustainability, design, knowledge and learning, and innovation rather than cost and profit. It’s a unique form of urban development that’s responsive to the needs of all involved: the non-Indigenous neighbours, the Treaty One nations, the city, and the thousands of Indigenous people who call Winnipeg home.