Métis-Anishinaabe land defender establishes Rooster Town blockade in Winnipeg to protect wetlands

Photo by Jenna Vandal

The Parker Wetlands - located south of Taylor Avenue and west of the Jubilee interchange - in Winnipeg are an ecological heritage area that Métis-Anishinaabe land defender Jenna Vandal describes as culturally significant.

Metro News has reported, "The 42-acre parcel of forest, wetland and grassland between Waverly and Pembina is home to a variety of rare birds, animals, butterflies and plants, but advocates are worried imminent construction projects may destroy part of this natural property."

Gem Equities - owned by developer Andrew Marquess - has already bulldozed about one-third of the wetlands and cut down trees to develop residential buildings on the site.

The Winnipeg Sun has reported, "According to a Gem Equities Development Document for the project, the development does not require approval under the Manitoba Environment Act or the Canadian Environment Assessment Act to proceed, as the size and type of development do not fall under the Provincial Classes of Development."

On July 14, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, "A half-dozen protesters surrounded a bulldozer at the Parker wetlands [this] morning to halt clearing of the land..." The previous day a bulldozer took down a tree that was home to a Cooper's hawk nest containing hatchlings. The newspaper adds, "A bird of prey, the Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a large head, broad, rounded wings and long tail. They were considered endangered, threatened or of special concern in a number of areas in North America in the late 1990s."

About 15-20 people established an encampment - known as the 'Rooster Town blockade' - in the wetlands that day to prevent any further destruction.

Now the CBC reports, "The owner of the Parker Lands is contemplating using a private security firm to arrest protesters camped out on the property in Winnipeg's Fort Garry area. ...The owners also installed security signs and large overhead lights [that are turned on between 9 pm and 6 am] in other areas of the property."

Vandal wants a moratorium on the bulldozing of the wetlands until the Manitoba Métis Federation and other Indigenous groups are consulted.

She has stated, “Rooster Town, a Mé​tis settlement destroyed in 1960, was situated right next to the Parker wetlands. Structures, arrowheads and bison-skinning tools have been found in this urban forest. I will fight to defend this land that cared for my Indigenous ancestors, both Métis and First Nations.”

Vice further explains, "From the 1880s to the late 1950s, it was the part of what was dubbed 'Rooster Town', a so-called 'shanty town' where dozens of Métis families lived in dire poverty after being displaced from their homes with the spread of colonization. The ad-hoc village was demolished in 1959 to build a nearby mall, with its residents displaced (again) to the impoverished North End. But the forested area was left untouched, remaining as a preserved archeological site of sorts."

Gem Equities is seeking an injunction against the land defenders but, for now, a court will not rule on that matter until November 2.

To read former Council of Canadians Winnipeg chapter activist Michael Welch's CBC op-ed on this issue, please click here.