Year of highs, lows for Indigenous people


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Naawi-Oodena, the former Kapyong barracks site in south Winnipeg, was recently designated an “urban reserve” by the federal government.

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Naawi-Oodena, the former Kapyong barracks site in south Winnipeg, was recently designated an “urban reserve” by the federal government.

Named “the centre and heart of the community,” the 158-acre site is the largest urban reserve in Canada and stands to become the most progressive economic development in the country, benefiting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.

It was some good news amid an exceptionally difficult year for Indigenous people.


Chief Cindy Woodhouse smudges before a press conference announcing that Naawi-Oodena was officially converted to reserve, which will be developed into residential and commercial space starting in the spring of 2023.

In the opening days of 2022, for example, COVID-19 devastated Manitoba First Nations. In Manto Sipi Cree Nation, 10 per cent of the community was infected; in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, one-third of the community was in isolation.

In January, the Assembly of First Nations announced a $40-billion settlement (ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal) to compensate First Nations children and rectify infrastructure inequities that lead to them entering the child welfare system.

While it sounded like progress, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock criticized the agreement as leaving out victims. The tribunal later rejected the agreement.

February brought the so-called “freedom convoy,” which co-opted Indigenous ceremonies to justify its movement, and some Indigenous people bought into its propaganda regarding anti-COVID-19 vaccination and liberation.

February also marked the start of the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For Indigenous people who live beside, are married to or have met any of the hundreds of Ukrainians now living in the North End, it has clearly impacted lives.

March and April arrived with some change, as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders travelled to the Vatican to hear an apology from Pope Francis for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

In April, Manitoba auditor general Tyson Shtykalo announced Premier Heather Stefanson’s government has not been fulfilling commitments mandated under the province’s Path to Reconciliation Act. (With a provincial election due in 2023, and nearly one-fifth of the province identifying as Indigenous, Stefanson had better take a hint.)

In July, the Pope made a three-city Canadian tour to offer this same apology, recognizing the residential school system was “genocide.”


The final audience stands with Pope Francis and members of the Indigenous delegation where the Pontiff delivered an apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, at the Vatican in April.

At this time, news emerged the Catholic Church brokered a secret 2015 deal with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to renege on its legally mandated compensation for residential school survivors.

The summer months began with an exciting announcement the Southern Chiefs’ Organization had taken over the former Hudson’s Bay Co. flagship building in downtown Winnipeg, planning a major renovation.

Called Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn (“it is visible”), it will feature two restaurants, a large palatial atrium, a rooftop garden, a museum, an art gallery, child care space, a governance centre, and nearly 300 affordable housing units.

This news was hampered by some of the worst flooding in First Nations in history. (For my community, Peguis First Nation, 1,800 citizens were displaced. Some still live in hotels.)

Meanwhile, the Manitoba Métis Federation — which has been expanding programming and purchasing buildings to do so — had its battle with the Métis National Council over membership and politics boil over into the public sphere.

MMF now calls itself the “government of the Red River Métis” and demands all who acknowledge it use this language.

The AFN also had an internal battle, as a failed coup in July by regional chiefs sought to remove National Chief Roseanne Archibald.


Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

That same month, the United States Supreme Court cancelled nearly three centuries of tribal sovereignty, issuing the highly controversial McGirt decision.

August brought the removal of disgraced Assembly of Manitoba Chief grand chief Arlen Dumas, after years of allegations of inappropriate behaviour, sexual assault and harassment. In October, the AMC elected it first female grand chief: former Pimicikamak chief Cathy Merrick.

In September, the government of Canada appointed its first Indigenous judge on the Supreme Court: Michelle O’Bonsawin.

That national high was countered by the tragic mass slaying on James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

In December, the public found out about charges regarding the slayings of four Indigenous women by an accused serial killer in Winnipeg. City police then announced they weren’t going to search for human remains in local landfills, leading to public outcry.

Winnipeg has posted its highest annual homicide count in 2022 (51 as of Dec. 24), one-fifth of the victims were Indigenous women.

All of this difficulty makes some of the great recent stories hard to see, but there were many of those, too.

This fall, Manitoba led the country in honouring the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.


The Hudson’s Bay Company heritage building in Winnipeg is about to undergo a major transformation in the name of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

In southwest Manitoba, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation purchased Grand Valley Park, just west of Brandon, and intends to create a tourist destination.

My daughter joined 17 other Indigenous young people who received Manitoba Indigenous Youth Achievement Awards.

This year wasn’t all hard, but here’s to 2023 being better.

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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