Monday, February 6, 2023

The Urban Reserve - Naawi-Oodena

Print 7: The Urban Reserve - Naawi-Oodena                              (On exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 21, 2023).

Naawi-Oodena an example of reconciliation in action

In the final print, the background is a map of Winnipeg's River Heights and Tuxedo neighbouhoods with a white blank space of the new urban reserve, Naawi-Oodena. Figures of Indigenous people fill the centre, the blank space of the image, while in previous prints the figures were pushed to the margins. The blank space outlining the land of the former Kapyong barracks site, symbolizes a kind of blank slate for a new beginning. Figures of settler families and politicians gather along the side of the new reserve, tentatively touching and overlapping with the Indigenous figures to indicate new social and cultural connections. The Winnipeg houses are printed upside down, symbolizing a change in the colonial systems in society. To me, Naawi-Oodena represents a new space through which the relationships and perceptions between settlers and Indigenous communities are beginning to change.

I start the narrative with the closing of the Kapyong military barracks at the corner of Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard. Winnipeg Free Press reporter Alexandra Paul writes on June 20, 2004: “The future of the soon-to-be vacated Kapyong Barracks ... is still undecided, with possible uses including housing, green space, and expanding Kenaston Boulevard. As well, the Brokenhead and Long Plain First Nations say they should get the 65-hectare site because land is owed them under treaty agreements.”

An article by Deborah Froese in the Canadian Mennonite (March 25, 2015) further explains, that “Three years later, the federal Treasury Board attempted to sell the site to the Canada Lands Company, a Crown corporation, for dispersal. But before that sale could be completed, a group of first nations communities challenged it in court on the basis of treaty agreements with the federal government.

[Steve] Heinrichs (former Mennonite Church Canada's director of indigenous relations..) further explains in the article that “In 1871, the government promised more land to Treaty One signatories than it delivered. In order to meet that deficit, the federal government is legally required to offer any Crown lands labelled as surplus – such as Kapyong Barracks – to Treaty One communities.”

This led to years of negotiations and legal battles, as well as skepticism from the surrounding neighbourhoods, the latter of which was addressed in a series of panel discussions hosted by CMU between 2014-2015.

In 2019 a Kapyong settlement is finally reached.

Tessa Vanderhart writes in the Winnipeg Free Press on August 31, 2019“Treaty 1 First Nations sign 'truly remarkable' deal. After 17 years of negotiations and legal battles, Treaty 1 First Nations signed a “huge” settlement agreement Friday to buy the former Kapyong Barracks from the federal government. 'It's a very, very beautiful day, historically, to be here with you,' said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, speaking on behalf of the seven Treaty 1 members ... The final deal follows an agreement in principle signed in April by Brokenhead Objibway, Sagkeeng, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River Anshiniaabe, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake ... 'I believe that our ancestors are smiling on us today,' said Brokenhead Chief Deborah Smith. 'Today signifies, for me, economic reconciliation.'”

(Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday, March 29, 2018 Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, Reporter) Niigaan Sinclair... associate professor in native studies at the University of Manitoba ... said the development of the Kapyong site represents “a true opportunity for reconciliation in Winnipeg Manitoba and Canada.” At Kapyong, some Indigenous people can finally get back some of the territory they are owed, he said. “This is an opportunity for Indigenous nations to have a real venue to be able to create relationships and partnerships with Winnipeggers and Manitobans,” ... Kapyong's future could mark a more just chapter in Canada's history, [lawyer Loretta] Ross said. “I think any time you have an opportunity for the First Nation community and non-First Nation community to coexist is a form of reconciliation,” she said.

What stood out to me in the last two prints, where I portray beautiful and hopeful outcomes of the reconciliation process, is the arduous, lengthy, and persistent legal fight Indigenous communities have to go through to receive some form of restitution to this day. Perhaps, as a community of allies grows, we can demand a future in which these battles for justice and respect won't have to be so hard fought for. When I look at the change in public perception and attitudes, a greater understanding of colonization processes and systemic racism, the change in language and representation in our local newspaper, I am hopeful that things will continue to change for a better and more inclusive society.

As Paul Samyn, editor in chief at the Winnipeg Free Press writes on April 10, 2021 on the future of the Winnipeg Free Press: “There are many things a good newspaper needs to be. A light that exposes injustice. A magnifying glass that brings into focus what otherwise might be missed. A signpost to help you navigate the way to events that matter to you. The commitment that began with an apology for the times when our coverage has fallen short, had been blind to those marginalized by the colour of their skin – and cases when we have been part of the problem, not the solution – has already led to change within the Free Press newsroom ...”

In Conclusion:

The impacts of colonization continue to pervade everything in our lives today: social structures and systems, our perception of land and property, the content we are taught in schools and read in the media, the way we think about, interact with, and treat others on whose land we now live, and whose experiences are not always represented in the media or taught in schools. This artist's book invites us to question our biases, our perceptions, and our understandings of history, and challenges us to decolonize our thinking.

For digital access to the book please click here. 

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