Naawi-Oodena officially becomes largest urban reserve in Canada after repatriation of Winnipeg barracks

The largest urban reserve in Canada was officially established on Friday, after lands of the former Kapyong Barracks in Winnipeg were repatriated to a joint reserve land base owned by a group of seven First Nations in Treaty One territory.

“The official additions to the reserve of Naawi-Oodena… [are] a giant step towards the realization of the largest urban reserve in Manitoba and Canada,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said at a Monday news conference.

Naawi-Oodena, which translates to “centre of the heart and community” in Anishinaabemowin, is a 64-hectare site west of Kenaston Boulevard at Grant Avenue, bordering the Tuxedo and River Heights neighbourhoods.

The site was once home to the former Kapyong Barracks, which were abandoned in 2004 when the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was moved to Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon, Man.

The seven Treaty One First Nations involved in the project include the Brokenhead, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake First Nations.

The Treaty One Development Corporation will develop about 45 hectares, or approximately two-thirds of the site. Canada Lands Co., a Crown corporation, will develop the rest.

“Winnipeg has always been a centre of economic activity for our communities, for thousands and thousands of years, so this isn’t something new for us,” Brokenhead Chief Gordon Bluesky said at the news conference.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a bit of a disruption through our history, which we’re starting to reconcile today.”

Line map of Winnipeg showing former Kapyong Barracks.
The site of the former Kapyong Barracks in Winnipeg was abandoned in 2004. (Former Kapyong Barracks Master Plan)

Shovels are expected to hit the ground at the site next spring, a Monday news release said, and it will take an estimated 15 years for development to be completed in three phases.

The initial phase, which will take place during the first five years of the project, will include 100 residential units and 300,000 square feet of commercial space, as well as $25 million in infrastructure to support those developments.

The second phase, taking place from the sixth to tenth years, will add an additional 600 residential units, 400,000 sq. ft of commercial space and an additional $30 million in infrastructure.

Through the last five years of the project, another 400 residential units will be added to the site, as well as 350,000 square feet of commercial space and $29 million in infrastructure.

Once development of the site is completed, Naawi-Oodena will be a mixed-use zone including residential, commercial, education, cultural, sports/recreational, health and community space-related purposes, according to the release.

Naawi-Oodena is currently the largest First Nation-led urban economic development zone in Manitoba, the release said.

“It has the potential to create prosperity — both economically and culturally,” said Merrick.

The group of First Nations first challenged the federal government’s attempt to sell the site in 2008, saying they had a right to the land under outstanding treaty land entitlement claims.

In 2015, a judge ruled that the government failed to adequately consult with the First Nations over the sale.

The land transfer was ruled illegitimate, and the federal government fought the decision until 2015, when then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced that the government would no longer continue to appeal the decision.

Demolition of the barracks site began in summer 2018.

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

‘Paradigm shift’

On Monday, a moment of silence was held for cultural and political leaders who were key to the success of Naawi-Oodena and who passed away before the announcement, including elder Charlie Nelson, knowledge keeper Dave Courchene Jr. and Winnipeg MP Jim Carr.

“We can’t do this by ourselves. We have to do this together. We’re stronger when we’re together,” Swan Lake Chief Jason Daniels said at the conference.

Daniels acknowledged that there has been “a lot of hurt,” for both First Nation communities and for Winnipeg recently, speculating that a percentage of the reserve’s revenue may go toward helping homeless people.

“This is such a good opportunity for not only the Treaty One nations, but for the citizens of Winnipeg,” he said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the project sets the tone for economic prosperity in Manitoba First Nations.

“There’s a paradigm shift that’s taking place,” he said at the news conference.

“We no longer want to be spectators of economic prosperity in Manitoba. We want to be participants and it’s happening now.”

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