Treaty 1 First Nations are feeling vindicated after a celebratory press conference this month, wherein the federal government announced its intention to convey the Kapyong Barracks to them with the intent of transforming it, in due course, to an urban reserve. What a saga it was!
Bottom line: the rise of native empowerment just landed squarely in downtown Winnipeg, as the native legal winning streak broke through 250 legal wins on the road to resources. Three of those wins had to do with the Barracks; which parcel will now comprise TLE Settlement lands.
TLE stands for Treaty Land Entitlement: denoting the historical fact that the proper amount of reserve land was never conveyed to the native-side after Treaty 1 was signed at the Lower Fort in August 1871. The author was federal negotiator assigned to settle the missing land matter. That settlement occurred two decades ago; but it took forever to identify a designated parcel.
Canada kept running lawsuits against Treaty 1 First Nations (losing three out of four) throughout a decade of taking its chances in court. It’s clear from all the native wins that the courts were hoping to promote reconciliation, well before the governments were. That’s because politicians at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels were frozen in fear over the prospect of a large urban reserve in the heart of the city.
All that changed with the Trudeau Liberals and their emphasis on promoting reconciliation. While the Liberals can be criticized for sound-bites and platitudes, here they stepped-up and put words into action, after taking stock of a decade of failed litigation during the Harper era.
In mid-April, 2018, federal Minister of Defense, Harjit Sajjan, flanked by Minister of Natural Resources, James Carr, announced at a Treaty 1 signing ceremony that Kapyong Barracks would be conveyed to the native-side in order to become an urban reserve. That would take some time, as the site would first be demolished and then decontaminated by Canada. In fact, the terms of conveyance had not yet been hammered out, as this was an agreement in principle. Nevertheless, in a moving public ceremony, native leaders spoke of reconciliation with Canada.
“We’re breathing life into our treaties. We’re repatriating our land. We’re living in a new Canada.” (Chief Glenn Hudson, Peguis First Nation) “Ten years ago I never would have believed these developments, we’re living in a different country.” (Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas)
Minister Carr responded: “We’re on Treaty 1 territory like never before, and we’ve been taught a life-changing lesson. You are our new neighbours and we welcome you to our neighbourhood.” Minister Sajjan added: “The Liberal government is totally invested in renewing the relationship that began in Winnipeg in 2016 with the announcement of the new framework for recognizing Indigenous rights.” He credited Minister Carr for being ‘a tireless advocate’ for this initiative. (author’s notes taken during CBC Winnipeg live coverage).
It’s my view that this conveyance announcement is the most important act of reconciliation to date in the country. It signals a refreshing move away from the official apology phase to actually putting events into motion. Credit should also go to the courts, which have played a vital role in promoting reconciliation throughout this torturous decade of litigation. In this instance, the courts actually set the table for politicians to deliver an outcome in the spirit and intent of their rulings. Even so, there are many more judicial outcomes awaiting this sort of political leadership on the road to resources. Let’s keep the momentum going on reconciliation.