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OTTAWA — The seven First Nations set to inherit Kapyong Barracks will gather at the former military base early Wednesday to pray for a successful future for the site, as federal bureaucrats scramble with last-minute plans.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will join the seven chiefs of Treaty 1 alongside Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr to announce an agreement that marks the first major step towards a solution for the site, which has sat dormant for almost 14 years.
Wednesday’s events have been hastily organized, sources working on the project say, with progress over the weekend and last-minute invitations.
In fact, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman only got an invite late Monday afternoon, and it’s unclear whether Premier Brian Pallister did.
Those working on the project say there’s been a baseline agreement between the chiefs and Ottawa, but added that talks were continuing this afternoon to see whether specific pledges or timelines could be announced as part of that agreement.
The press conference starts at 11 a.m. at Assiniboia Downs. All seven chiefs and the federal ministers will speak and take questions from the media. Afterwards, the chiefs will host a private feast to celebrate the project.
Sajjan will be the Crown's representative for the event, while Carr will attend as the MP for the area and the only Manitoban in the federal Cabinet.
But before the public meeting at Assiniboia Downs, the chiefs will have a solemn, private visit to Kapyong Barrcks, to hold water and pipe ceremonies.
"Asking blessings from our Creator, that’s what it’s about," said Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches, who speaks on behalf of the seven bands.
The pipe ceremony symbolizes the earth, within the Kapyong site and across the planet. The water ceremony commemorates life and is meant to draw attention to droughts and flooding.
"In this day and age, we recognize the changes with our land and our water — it’s very important we recognize that," Meeches said.
Meeches expects scores of local people to be at the public portion at Assiniboia Downs, though a fair amount of local dignitaries won’t be able to make it.
Bowman’s office said the mayor received an invite late Monday which did not specify what the federal announcement would entail. Bowman will instead be chairing the Executive Policy Committee meeting at City Hall, though this event normally lasts less than 30 minutes.
"The mayor has been consistent in his support of developing the Kapyong lands, already citing its significance two years earlier in his State of the City address, and has been respectful of the federal leadership role throughout the process," spokesman Jonathan Hildebrand wrote.
Some councillors were invited this morning, like John Orlikow, whose ward of River Heights-Fort Garry borders the Kapyong Barracks property.
Orlikow chairs the city’s property and development committee, which will likely have input into any development agreement.
"I’m glad it’s moving forward because it’s been a long-time waiting. The neighbourhood would like to know some clarity as to what’s going on, so we need to do this first step of transferring the land," he said, adding he was excited to finally learn who would be managing the land.
Orlikow said he’d try to attend, pending how long the EPC meeting runs.
Janice Lukes, who represents South Winnipeg-St. Norbert, said it was good to hear of some progress.
"The property is an eyesore. It’s in limbo; people don’t know what’s going on. This will help us with our expansion or whatever we do for Kenaston Boulevard."
The province said it had no comment this afternoon, given that it will be a federal announcement and it had received no details.
Neither Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton nor Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke had received an invitation to attend the event, a provincial spokeswoman said. A spokesman for Brian Pallister said he was not aware that the premier had received an invitation.
With files from Aldo Santin and Larry Kusch
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