I enjoyed reading Mary Agnes Welch’s recent article on the Kapyong Barracks, a vacant federal-owned land plot in South Central Winnipeg. That should tell you something about me, from the get-go. It wasn’t until I hit the comments section – where the highest upvoted comments include both subtle and less-than-subtle racist rejoinders – that I had any desire to actually think, read or write anything further about the issue.
Writing on the fuel of my frustration, it was quickly clear to me both how little I knew about the legal backstory. The information I sought to link and reference quickly became outdated and contradictory. What I’m writing now is the product of a few hours of clicking, and will hopefully offer more clarity than emotion.
Welsh writes: “It’s important to remember Canada owes Manitoba First Nations thousands of hectares of land, hundred-year holdovers from treaty promises unkept.”
The bold can’t be emphasized enough. I imagine we all (myself, Winnipeggers, WFP commenters, NBA players, WFP writers, Spaniards, perhaps even politicians) share values such as “keeping one’s word.” I expect there are truly few who raise their children with the notion that breaking promises is honourable, or even advisable. These are legal agreements which the Canadian government (of which I am an excitable citizen) entered into.
Next: “The four bands vying for a part of Kapyong were shorted, collectively, land double the size of present-day Winnipeg.”
This part was a little more difficult, but I’ll spare you my misguided paths of inquiry. Here’s what I will say: Combing through the provincial government, the federal government and the band websites, the most recent information I have found thus far dates from 2011 and 2012.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) has an overview page for all Treaty Land Entitlements (TLE). On that page, I found a link to a 2011 “Facts on File,” which summarizes all the TLE agreements Manitoba has entered into. Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River and Swan River First Nations are all under the “Individual Agreements of this section.” Using basic reading comprehension (and a hope that I am not missing another part of the picture): Each of those First Nations was given a certain financial settlement, with the intent of using those finances to purchase land at a later date.
The provincial government has a 2011 online brochure, which similarly outlines the TLE agreements. On page 5 and 6, the documents describes the agreements between Manitoba and the First Nations in question. The document states:
“Three TLE settlement agreements were signed between Canada and the First Nations between
1994 to 1996. The agreements are for acquisition lands (55,690 acres) and do not involve
any Crown lands. To date, 17,890 acres have been purchased with 10,756 acres set apart as
“8. Under the agreement, Peguis is entitled to 55,038 acres of Crown land and 111,756 acres of
acquisition land. To date, Peguis has selected 25,995 acres of Crown land and has not yet
made any acquisitions.”
So – for every one of the TLE agreements in question, all four First Nations have a significant portion of their allotted land which remains unpurchased. In simple terms: each First Nation in question still has a big, unfilled quota of land that the Governments of Manitoba and Canada agreed to sell back to them. I think that settles a big, first, basic point. Our governments agreed that they had erred in fulfilling their treaty obligations, and agreed to sell government land back to many First Nations communities.
Next, the comments. What frustrated me especially was the vitriol which suffused so many of the respondents. The top flagged comment for me is one protesting at the “hyperbole” of the article. I feel those who take umbrage with Welch’s use of language are distracting from what she’s actually talking about. The quality of the writing is certainly up for personal opinion, but it is a condescending and obvious diversionary tactic to place the focus there.
I do think many of the readers understood the idea of the TLE’s. Unfortunately, many more also thought it was a case of the government “giving” away the land on a whim, without any reason.
Further, some other commenters asserted that it was ridiculous for Welch suggest that the Kapyong Barracks was the single factor holding First Nations people back from economic prosperity. To any reader with good intentions and some tools of competence, the meaning of Welch’s statement on economic prosperity should have been clear. It is an ironic disservice to criticize a lack of dynamism and then restrict new ideas which come into place.
I think Welch is asking good questions: why is this process taking so long and going through such a lengthy court process? Why shouldn’t there be an urban reserve? Amusingly, on the federal government’s own website, there is a brief primer entitled “Urban Reserves: A Quiet Success Story.” I think there are many possible creative solutions. I hope that a majority of Winnipeggers will come around to thinking with optimism, rather than seeking the angles with which they can insult and undermine others.