New life means new name for former Kapyong Barracks site: Naawi-Oodena

Anishinaabe culture and language are being celebrated in a new name for the former Kapyong Barracks military site in Winnipeg.

Naawi-Oodena — pronounced Nah way–Oh day nah — means “centre of the heart and community,” according to Treaty One Nation, a group of seven Treaty 1 First Nations who own and are developing two-thirds of the 65-hectare site as an urban reserve.

The concept of an urban reserve allows First Nations to use land within a city to develop for commercial purposes and generate revenue for their community. 

The name signifies the land’s important and historic location in the centre of Turtle Island (North America), the group said in a news release on Thursday.   

“Naawi-Oodena will be a place of hope and optimism for First Nations people for many generations to come,” Treaty One spokesperson Chief Dennis Meeches said in the release.

The name was unveiled Thursday but it was conceived about a week ago by Dave Couchene Jr., a knowledge keeper from Sagkeeng First Nation.

That was when Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson, at the request of the Treaty One Nation governing council, passed sacred tobacco to Couchene in request of a traditional name.

As per First Nations customs, Courchene accepted the tobacco and conducted a name-giving ceremony at the Turtle Lodge in Sagkeeng, about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

“The name Naawi-Oodena signals the beginning of a promising new community and relationship with our Treaty 1 relatives and neighbours. We look forward to creating an inclusive and inviting space for all people,” said Meeches, chief of Long Plain First Nation.

The site along Kenaston Boulevard, bordering the Tuxedo, River Heights and Lindenwoods neighbourhoods, was abandoned in 2004 when the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was moved to Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon.

The 65-hectare site is along Kenaston Boulevard, tucked among the Tuxedo, River Heights and Lindenwoods neighbourhoods. (Former Kapyong Barracks Master Plan)

The Canadian Forces then declared the site surplus, and the federal Treasury Board tried to sell it to a Crown corporation.

That decision was challenged in court by the group of Treaty 1 First Nations, who argued outstanding Treaty Land Entitlement claims meant they had a right to the site.

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

In 2019, the land transfer to Treaty 1 First Nations was made official.

The final master plan for the site was released to the public in March 2021.

It includes residential and commercial space, sports and recreation facilities, community spaces and an administration centre for Treaty One Nation.

The other 21 hectares will be owned and developed by the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation.

That land will see medium- and low-density residential development, according to the plans.

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