Kapyong Barracks deal could come soon, says First Nation leader

A Manitoba First Nations leader who is involved in talks with the federal government over the Kapyong Barracks says they're closer than ever to turning the former military base in Winnipeg into an urban reserve.

Treaty 1 chiefs say they're working on response to federal government offer

Kapyong Barracks deal could come soon, says First Nation leader

7 years ago
Duration 3:09
Chief Dennis Meeches of the Long Plain First Nation is involved in talks with the federal government over the Kapyong Barracks and says they're closer than ever to turning the former military base in Winnipeg into an urban reserve.

A Manitoba First Nations leader who is involved in talks with the federal government over the Kapyong Barracks says they're closer than ever to turning the former military base in Winnipeg into an urban reserve.

Chief Dennis Meeches of the Long Plain First Nation says he and leaders from six other Treaty 1 First Nations that are involved in negotiations recently received an offer from Ottawa on the property, located along Kenaston Boulevard.

"We have to provide a counter-offer, so we're working some internal issues that I can't disclose, but I think we can resolve those and I'm hoping that within the next 30 days that we'll be able to let Canada know this is the position of Treaty 1," he told reporters on Thursday.

Meeches said should the deal be approved, the chiefs will also have to negotiate with the City of Winnipeg on how best to expand Kenaston Boulevard to accommodate the proposed development.

"We have every right through our treaty land entitlement to have access to Kapyong … now I think we're very close to this agreement," he said. "I'm optimistic that we can settle something fairly soon."

He added, "The biggest barrier has been removed, which was the federal government — everything should be smooth sailing now…. The only thing that can really derail this is ourselves, the Treaty 1 chiefs."

Discussion aims to dissolve stigma

Meeches made the remarks following a panel discussion co-hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

About 340 people gathered at the RBC Convention Centre over the noon hour to partake in the discussion, which aimed to dissolve the stigma surrounding urban reserves.

The conversation comes weeks after Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that the federal government would drop its legal battle against the Treaty 1 Manitoba First Nations over the future of the Kapyong Barracks.

"I see it as a way elevating my people from poverty by giving them an opportunity to get involved in the economy of this country," Ovide Mercredi, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in his opening remarks.

Mercredi explained that many First Nations communities outside of urban centres suffer from a lack of jobs and opportunity, and the operation of an "economic centre" within a city is a benefit to both First Nations people and the host community.

Dennis Meeches and other First Nations leaders took part in a panel discussion on urban reserves, co-hosted on Thursday by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce. (Erin Brohman/CBC)
While Saskatchewan has 54 urban reserves, Manitoba only has six, one of which is in Winnipeg, he added.

"Our people need a foothold, and also to create wealth in the areas of the city where the urban reserve is located," said Mercredi.

The Federal Court of Appeal sided with the Treaty 1 chiefs in ruling that the federal government failed to properly consult with First Nations on Kapyong Barracks.

Now, as consultations are beginning over the site, which has sat vacant for over a decade, chiefs and business leaders sought to consult with Winnipeggers on Thursday to garner support and understanding of what urban reserves actually are.

"It not only means prosperity for aboriginal people, but prosperity for all of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada," said Jessica Dumas, chairperson for the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce.

"The biggest thing people need to realize is it's an economic development area. It's about business, it's about bringing prosperity to communities, and the words are really deceiving."

First Nations 'do not get a free ride,' says former city planner

A former planner with the City of Winnipeg says the First Nations, while not required to pay property taxes on any building in the urban reserve, would still have to pay for water, roads, firefighting and other services.

"Bottom line, the First Nations do not get a free ride with the City of Winnipeg. They've got to abide by city bylaws, they have to pay the services they'll be depending on,"' said Harry Finnigan, who is now a lawyer with B. Finnigan and Associates Ltd.

The proposed urban reserve is supported by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, with president Dave Angus seeing it as an opportunity for new businesses, banks, education and jobs.

"Companies will invest, developing land there, with the First Nations. There's definitely a role to play there for the private sector," he said.

Angus added, "People view urban reserves the way they view First Nations reserves throughout the province — where it's a lack of economic vibrancy — and I think that's wrong."


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