Winnipeg Free Press | By: Carol Sanders, 05/30/2016
Until now, the Kapyong Barracks site sat idle for more than a decade, thanks to a legal battle between the federal government and Treaty One First Nations.
A small group of demonstrators planning traditional ceremonies for the next few weeks pitched a tent Sunday night and set a sacred fire on the edge of the property across the street from Tuxedo condos.
“We’re here peacefully,” said Kylo Prince, a Long Plain First Nation member who lives in Winnipeg. He said they want to hold ceremonies there for urban indigenous people and to share their culture and traditions with the non-indigenous community. Neighbours have shown curiosity and stopped by to speak to Prince who is accompanied by three other American Indian Movement members.
“We’ve mets lots of friendly people so far,” Prince said, as an elderly Caucasian man drove by slowly and gave the group a nod. Most have shown encouragement, said Prince. “Some people are saying ‘It’s about time’,” he said.
“We’ve had a few sour stares,” he admitted.
On Sunday night, the Winnipeg fire department visited the site and asked if they had a fire permit, said Prince.
“I said ‘we don’t need a permit – we have the UN declaration.’ ” Earlier this month, Canada committed its support to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which includes the right to practice their traditions and celebrate their culture.
“It put it to the test,” said Prince. The firefighters saw that they were taking care of the fire in a metal fireplace and left, he said. Winnipeg police showed up Monday morning and asked what was going on and left, he said.
On Monday morning, military police showed up and asked what they were doing there. The two officers advised the demonstrators to call if they needed help. “We certainly respect your cause,” said one of the officers who wear a red beret. “If you need something, let me know.”
Prince asked if they could help arrange to get them a porta-potty. The nearest public restroom is at Superstore on Grant Avenue or at IKEA on Route 90.
Culture and traditions
They’re not demonstrating because they want to take over the property, said Prince. They’re there to demonstrate their culture and traditions. He said he contacted the Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches about his vision for the site. Meeches is the Treaty One chief who took the lead in a battle with the federal government over first dibs through the Treaty Land Entitlement process on the Crown land vacated by the military in 2004. When the federal government gave up the fight last year, the process then was stalled by first nation infighting. Prince said Meeches supports their demonstration at Kapyong and he was waiting for the chief to contact the Department of National Defence to unlock the gates to the property so they could enter it. Meeches did not respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
“Whether it’s First Nations land or not, we feel we have a right to be here,” said Prince.
“It might be a good way to see what our people are about,” said Harrison Friesen-Powder, a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta. “There have been a lot of judgments made.” He said Kapyong housed soldiers who’d experienced the pain and trauma of war and the site could use a spiritual cleansing.
“These ceremonies will help to heal that.”
Prince said Winnipeg’s First Nation people need healing, too, and the Kapyong ceremonies aim to help.
“We’re hoping to have a feast here on Father’s Day for murdered and missing (indigenous) men,” said Prince, acknowledging there are many more men than women missing and feared dead.
Prince and Friesen-Powder belong to the American Indian Movement and were joined at Kapyong by members from Quebec and Michigan who drove 35 hours to be there. When military police showed up Monday morning, the American who goes by Changes Wind Boy from Michigan covered his face with a bandana. He said the MPs were taking photos and he felt safer not having his photo distributed by police. The American showed a reporter his passport and said he arrived in Canada legally. He said the American Indian Movement has been associated with violence in the past but has learned peaceful methods are more effective.
“When you’re seen fighting against a government, there’s no way to win,” said the First Nation man from Michigan. They want to bring back ceremonies “and show people we can live peacefully among them.”
Read more by Carol Sanders.