Construction on largest urban reserve in Canada could begin in Winnipeg this August

Construction on the urban reserve just off Kenaston Boulevard in Winnipeg could begin this August if city, federal and First Nations agreements go through, Treaty 1 executives say.

New business, property tax deal between Treaty 1 nations and Winnipeg step to self-governance, executives say

Whelan Sutherland, CEO of Treaty 1 Development Corporation, and Jolene Mercer, director of governance for the corporation at Winnipeg City Hall on Wednesday, June 15. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Construction could start on Naawi-Oodena — the urban reserve at the former Kapyong Barracks in Winnipeg — this summer, if all goes according to plan with a new tax deal.

"This is a true relationship with the City of Winnipeg as we move forward," Whelan Sutherland, the CEO of Treaty 1 Development Corporation, told reporters Wednesday.

"This is independent land, however, we want to make sure that it works well with the city."

The city's executive policy committee voted Wednesday to unanimously approve a tax deal with Treaty 1 nations — Brokenhead, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake. The agreement, called the Gaawijijigemangit Agreement, would see the nations collect the same business and property taxes as the City of Winnipeg.

The Treaty 1 corporation would use 65 per cent of that to pay for existing city services like sewage and policing. The other 35 per cent would be used for governance and administrative purposes, so they create their own services like building and maintaining roads.

Revenue stream for infrastructure

Jolene Mercer, governance director for Treaty 1 Development Corporation, said this is a significant step toward self-governance. The tax deal was the biggest hurdle to clear with the city so they can proceed with plans, she said.

"Usually this is one of the pieces that takes the longest," she told reporters, comparing the process to those for other urban reserves in Canada.

"We're very pleased that this was actually one of the first pieces completed."

Mercer said Naawi-Oodena isn't being funded like First Nations communities outside Winnipeg, which is why that 35 per cent needs to go toward running the community.

"We have to have our own revenue streams to be able to effectively and efficiently run that 109 acres, including we have to build our own infrastructure, our own sewer systems," said Mercer.

"We will utilize the Winnipeg sewer system, but we have to put in the infrastructure to get it there, as well as we have to build the roads. And we have to maintain those roads. So that all costs money."

"The City of Winnipeg has no jurisdiction on those lands. We are purchasing services from them, so there's a level that we would have to go through. But it's just like Headingley purchases some services or West St. Paul, but they're still responsible for maintaining their own infrastructure," she said.

Mayor Brian Bowman said the tax deal is a "significant development."

"It's one way in which a municipal government can assist," he said during a news conference Wednesday.

"The approach has been very collaborative here. More recently, it's been collaborative at the federal government with Canada Lands Corporation. Hopefully the provincial government will become even more engaged in this process going forward. They'll be reaping the benefit of economic growth, taxes.... We're happy to do our part to help provincial coffers so they can finally balance their budget one day."

10-15 years to finish

The agreement moves on to council next week. Should it pass, Mercer said she'll bring the agreement to the seven chiefs of the First Nations of Treaty 1 who will review it. Once that happens, Mercer said they submit plans to the federal government for approval.

Mercer said once everything is official, they'll start revealing more specific plans for the site. Generally, she said it's mixed use: high- and low-density residential areas, as well as lots of commercial opportunities.

In 2019, the land transfer to Treaty 1 First Nations was made official. A master plan for the site was made public in March 2021.

Independent zoning, bylaws

Mercer said Treaty 1 Development Corporation won't have to ask the city for permission for development plans. There will be a committee to communicate plans to city staff, but Mercer said the urban reserve will be quite independent, including separate bylaws and zoning systems complementary to City of Winnipeg rules.

Building designs will take inspiration from different First Nation cultures, she said. Treaty 1 Development Corporation will also have a say in how infrastructure like roads will be built, but the goal is to have it "seamlessly" fit into the rest of the city, Mercer said.

According to a 2019 joint study, First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Manitoba contributed $9.3 billion to the province's economy in 2016. That number will only grow, said Mercer, once Naawi-Oodena is complete.

"Not only are we developing an area that's been undeveloped for years now, we're also increasing our contribution to not only the Manitoba economy, but the Winnipeg economy and the economies of our communities," she said.

"It has a huge impact on all three levels."

Mercer said once construction begins, it will be about 10 to 15 years before the community is complete. Soon, she and other executives will be dealing with a new mayor and council.

"We hope their momentum doesn't stop," said Mercer.

"It's something that as we build and foster this relationship with the City of Winnipeg, we want it to move forward and continue on."


Sam Samson


Sam Samson is a senior reporter for CBC News, based in Regina. She's a multimedia journalist who has also worked for CBC in Winnipeg and Sudbury. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email