The federal government has postponed a meeting with Treaty One chiefs attempting to hammer out a deal over the Kapyong Barracks, an old military base in Winnipeg that has been unoccupied since 2004.

However, the delay is not just on Ottawa's side – it's also a result of internal politics, said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, spokesman for the seven Treaty One chiefs involved.

"Peguis [First Nation] is not in line with the Treaty One position right now," he said.

"We're hoping to convince them. We're hoping to resolve this fairly quick. Time is important. The struggle has been long and real for Kapyong and to get up to this point, pushing hard for a Treaty One position and have Peguis take a bit of a detour on it is one of the issues we need to solve ASAP," said Meeches.

The Long Plain chief said he's confident this will be resolved, possibly within months.

"It is a bit concerning but we do have assurances from Canada that they will undertake to work with us on it," he said.

Peguis Chief Cindy Spence is concerned none of the Kapyong land would be in Peguis' name even though she believes the First Nation has a substantial, court-backed claim to the land.

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches hopes the Kapyong deal will be resolved soon, possibly within months. (CBC)

"We will not agree to any agreement until we see number one, land in Peguis' name, and number two, what if any type of business arrangement do the chiefs expect to have with Peguis, including all of the financial details," she said.

Spence became Peguis First Nation chief in a closely-contested election less than a year ago. She took over from former chief Glenn Hudson, one of the original leaders that began the court process to redevelop Kapyong. Hudson said big issues are at stake.

"Peguis is dragging its feet. The new leadership doesn't understand how much work has gone into this and what's at stake," Hudson said.

Peguis member Garry Sinclair said he's concerned Spence wants to opt out of the collective negotiation process and pursue a Kapyong deal on her own.

'We cannot fail. We have to move forward and we'll get it done. I believe we will.' - Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches

"When you sit at the negotiating table you have more political clout if you are sitting there as a group, as a united body of Treaty One First Nations chiefs," said Sinclair.

"Our leader is acting on her own and not looking after the community," he argued.

Peguis' chief accuses her critics of fear mongering. 

"I'll be promoting Peguis' position on this matter and Peguis' best interests," Spence said.

"It's unfortunate that this type of politics has to ... impact," she said. "I don't want city of Winnipeg residents to think that there's politics at play when it comes to First Nations, it passes on a stereotype image."

The group had presented a counter-proposal for the land to the federal government on Feb. 5. They were planning to discuss the details face-to-face with government negotiators Wednesday. No new date has yet been set. The Department of National Defence said it would respond to CBC's request for information as soon as possible.

Kapyong vacant for more than 10 years

The Kapyong Barracks used to house members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. They have been sitting empty since 2004, when the Canadian Forces declared the site surplus.

The federal Treasury Board tried to transfer the land to a Crown corporation known as Canada Lands Co. to oversee the land's redevelopment and resale, but the First Nations went to the Federal Court to block the move.

Several court decisions have since ruled that Ottawa must consult the Treaty One First Nations before selling the property.

Under the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement, the Treaty One chiefs say they have first right of refusal of any surplus federal land.

Cindy Spence

Chief Cindy Spence says she is acting in the best interests of Peguis First Nation. (CBC)

The chiefs want to build an urban reserve, or economic development zone on the 64-hectare site, which borders Winnipeg's affluent Tuxedo neighbourhood.

Meeches would not reveal what was in the original government offer or the chiefs' counter-offer, but said urban reserves represent the future for First Nations people.

"It's not the answer to everything to solve all the problems and challenges we face but it goes a long way in building bridges and building economies for First Nations people," he said.

"I think Peguis, once they've reviewed everything and looked at what's at stake, I think I'm hoping that they will come in line with the Treaty One position … We cannot fail. We have to move forward and we'll get it done. I believe we will."

An agreement may also involve widening Kenaston Boulevard, something the City of Winnipeg has wanted to do for years. 


Statement by Peguis Chief Cindy Spence:

Peguis First Nation continues to be fully committed to seeking its full land entitlement under its hard fought Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement and the recent success in the Federal Court to obtain the maximum lands possible in order to bring true meaning to Treaty 1. It will do so on the basis of some key principles:

  • Chief & Council's obligations are to the membership of Peguis First Nation to provide benefits;
  • The Peguis Treaty Entitlement Agreement must guide the process as stated by the courts, with Canada as a willing seller and as we are in fact a willing buyer;
  • Development of the lands must be practical and fit within the Peguis Treaty Entitlement Agreement in conjunction with the City of Winnipeg; and,
  • Collaboration with other Treaty One First Nations, where possible, provided that Peguis' interests and independence is respected.

Currently there are some confidential negotiations underway with Canada and with other Treaty One First Nations and we are fully represented through legal counsel, Michael McDonald, DLA Piper (Canada) LLP.

Peguis First Nation's summary of Kapyong decision

CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content
With files from CBC's Angela Johnston