Naawi-Oodena becomes largest urban reserve in Canada

Negotiations over the 160-acre site have lasted nearly 20 years. On Monday, the property was officially converted to a reserve making it the largest of its kind in Manitoba. Mark Neufeld reports

By Mark Neufeld

It’s being called a historic moment for Manitoba’s Indigenous community.

The land formerly known as the Kapyong Barracks is the future home of Naawi-Oodena – an urban reserve that will become the largest First Nations-led urban economic development zone in Canada.

Naawi-Oodena means “centre of the heart and community” in the Anishinaabemowin language.

Negotiations over the 160-acre site have lasted nearly 20 years. On Friday the property was officially converted to a reserve and repatriated to the joint reserve land base of the seven Treaty One First Nations.

“This is our time to exercise our inherent right to manage the lands that we were rightfully entitled too,” said Treaty One chairperson Chief Gordon Bluesky.

Bluesky of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation says many of the leaders who were instrumental in starting this process did not live to see this day.

Former Chief Dennis Meeches says the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve will provide employment opportunities and economic growth for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

“We’re talking about well over a billion-dollar investment, thousands of jobs, and there should be about three or four thousand people living there in the next 15-20 years,” said Meeches.

Construction beginning spring 2023

Construction of the site is expected to begin next spring, with work taking place in three phases over the next 15 years.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick says the impact of Naawi-Oodena for all First Nations people will be broad and meaningful.

“It has the potential to create prosperity both economically and culturally,” said Merrick. “It also has the potential to influence urban reserve development across Canada.

Chief Craig Alexander of Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation says the process shouldn’t have taken so long, however he says this is a move forward towards truth and reconciliation.

Chief Gordon Bluesky says it’s about time.

“It is time for Treaty One to write a new history for our future generations to learn from and be proud of,” he said.

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