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This article was published 22/9/2015 (1582 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Treaty 1 bands are mulling a federal government settlement offer on Kapyong Barracks, and some hope a deal could be done by this time next year.
Word of the offer comes on the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Winnipeg Tuesday, pledged not to appeal a recent federal court decision on the fate of Kapyong Barracks. But Harper stopped short of saying the federal government would sell the vacant miliary base to the bands, who are owed land and see urban development as one key to economic self-sufficiency.
"As you know, there is a court decision. The government is not appealing that," said Harper. "Officials from the government have met with members of the First Nations and will continue to do so as we move forward."
Since the latest court decision came down last month, the Treaty One bands and their lawyer were hopeful Ottawa would decline to appeal and put an end to the eight-year court saga. Several chiefs, including Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches, applauded Harper’s move, saying it was long overdue.
Meeches confirmed talks between federal staff and the bands are well underway. On Aug. 20, at a long-scheduled meeting that occurred about a week after the Federal Court of Appeal delivered its latest judgment, Meeches said Ottawa presented the bands with a settlement offer.
Meeches wouldn’t say more about the nature of the offer — whether it included all of the barracks land, what the financial details may be or what development conditions may be proposed. Meeches said negotiations between the bands and Ottawa ought to be kept confidential. But he said the offer was an amended version of one the bands rejected some time ago.
"We need to take a hard look at exactly what’s on the table," said Meeches. "I can say we’re very close... The ball is in our court."
Long Plain is one of seven southern Manitoba bands that went to court eight years ago, arguing Ottawa failed to consult the bands when Kapyong was declared a surplus strategic asset that was beyond the reach of any aboriginal land claim. Three out of four court decisions sided with the bands, which include Peguis, Roseau River, Brokenhead, Sagkeeng. Sandy Bay and Swan Lake first nations.
The courts have made it clear Ottawa is not obliged to sell the barracks to First Nations. Instead, Ottawa must consult fully and substantially with them in a process that stops shy of a first right of refusal on the sale.
Brokenhead First Nation Chief Jim Bear said the next step is likely a counter-offer from the First Nations. He said the bands have not yet put together any concept plans or land-use studies for the land, in part because that costs money the bands didn’t want to spend until it looked like real consultations may be in the offing. But he said he’s optimistic a deal will be done by this time next year, a hope echoed by Norman Boudreau, longtime lawyer for some of the Treaty 1 bands.
"The First Nations should never have been frustrated this long," said Bear.
It’s been 14 years since, Brokenhead and Long Plain first wrote to Canada expressing an interest in the barracks land after the Department of National Defence announced the base would be closed.
The land at issue involves only the 160-acre "working" portion of Kapyong Barracks, not the 350-plus houses and duplexes that surround it. Those houses are mostly occupied but are expected to eventually be declared surplus like the rest of the land. So far, negotiations between the bands and Ottawa are not contemplating the fate of the houses. But an end to the decade-long Kapyong stalemate could clear the way for the city of Winnipeg to move ahead with plans to widen Kenaston Boulevard.
Former Peguis chief Glenn Hudson said recently any urban reserve would blend in seamlessly with River Heights and Tuxedo. Hudson envisioned a combination of condos, apartments and single-family homes, green space, mainstream big-box stores and perhaps an educational facility.
Bear shared that view, noting a casino is not among the ideas being considered. And it’s expected any plans for Kapyong would be made in close consultation with city planners and the neighbourhood.
Updated on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 12:58 PM CDT: Video added.
6:20 PM: Write-through
September 23, 2015 at 10:27 AM: Corrects typos.