It took 17 years of battling Ottawa and area residents, but the seven bands that makeup Treaty 1 got the deal they were looking for on Wednesday.
The Kapyong Barracks sits on a sprawling 64-hectares of prime real estate surrounded by Winnipeg’s affluent Tuxedo neighbourhood.
The military base has been empty since 2004 when the Canadian government relocated the infantry unit that was stationed there.
The federal Treasury Board wanted to sell it but Treaty 1 bands argued they had first dibs on the surplus property to fulfill an outstanding Treaty land entitlement.
The courts agreed, but Ottawa appealed and the battle continued.
As well, many in the neighbourhood rejected the idea of an urban reserve being set up in their backyard.
“This was bound to happen. Right from the day that it was declared surplus,” said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches.
His community has a small urban reserve not far from the Kapyong site, which houses an office complex and gas bar.
In 2015 the Harper Conservatives announced there would be no more court challenges and Kapyong would be handed over to the Treaty 1 bands for development.
Along with Long Plain signing the deal with Ottawa Wednesday was Brokenhead, Roseau River, Sagkeeng, Peguis, Swan Lake and Sandy Bay.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde was on-hand and made light of the urban reserve stigma that helped hold up the deal.
“To our non-aboriginal brother and sisters: don’t be afraid of urban reserves,” he said, to an amused crowd of Treaty 1 band members who had gathered for the announcement.
“They’re economic development zones. When we started talking 30 years ago we had to get rid of a bunch of misconceptions. ‘Oh there’s going to be a bunch of turned over cars and skinny dogs running all over.’ No, it’s not like that. This is a good thing,”
Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said now the work can begin to develop the site, which will take years as the military base needs to be torn down and remediated.
“We fought long enough give us what is rightfully ours,” Hudson said. “Give us the land, give us the opportunity and we’ll show you we can prosper.”
Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South centre and lives just a five-minute bike ride from Kapyong.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to welcome you to our neighbourhood and know we will build this neighbourhood together in partnership with the shared aspirations we have for our children and our grandchildren,” the minister said.