The longtime chief of Long Plain First Nation in southwestern Manitoba announced earlier this month he won’t be running again, but he still wants to be a leader in the community, striving to build better opportunities for his people.
Dennis Meeches announced earlier this month that after nearly two decades as chief of the community southwest of Portage la Prairie, he won’t seek re-election.
“Twenty years in public office is a long time,” he said on CBC Manitoba’s Radio Noon on Thursday.
“I know there’s still a lot of work to do, obviously, but it’s time to make space for another generation of leadership.”
Being a chief means not only overseeing the First Nation, but also working with a number of advocacy groups, including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Assembly of First Nations and Southern Chiefs Organization.
“You get pulled in all directions,” he said.
LISTEN | Dennis Meeches reflects on two decades of leadership:
Radio Noon Manitoba10:24Long Plain First Nation chief Dennis Meeches talks about not running for re-election
Meeches wants to focus more on improving life for people in the First Nation, living by the mantra of a good friend that you don’t need to be a chief to be a leader in your community.
“I’d really love to turn inward towards the community and I’m intending to run for a council seat. If things go well for me, then that would probably be my last term in office completely,” he said.
Meeches says there are many highlights of his 20 years in office.
The biggest include the development of urban reserves in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, and the redevelopment of the old Kapyong Barracks site into Naawi-Oodena, which means “centre of the heart and community.”
The land along Kenaston Boulevard, bordering the Tuxedo, River Heights and Lindenwoods neighbourhoods, was abandoned in 2004 when the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was moved to Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon.
The Canadian Forces then declared the site surplus, and the federal Treasury Board tried to sell it to a Crown corporation.
That decision was challenged in court by the group of Treaty 1 First Nations, who argued outstanding Treaty Land Entitlement claims meant they had a right to the site.
Although there were barriers along the way, in 2019, the land transfer to Treaty 1 First Nations was made official.
“To me, that’s a very important victory for Indigenous governments and really represents a promise for tomorrow,” Meeches said.
Naawi-Oodena will include residential and commercial space, sports and recreation facilities, community spaces and an administration centre for Treaty One Nation, which Meeches is the head of.
Meeches says he knows there are issues he hasn’t been able to address well enough in his time in office.
He hopes to be able to give them more attention if he’s elected into council.
“The biggest challenge we face is the drug crisis in our communities … that for me is one area we need to spend more attention on,” Meeches said.
His passions lean more toward economics, though.
“If I do get a council seat, I really want to focus on economics. On the Indigenous economies of Long Plain and Treaty One Nation,” Meeches said.
He wants to “continue to create jobs and continue to create opportunities for young people, families, communities with our Indigenous capital corporations.”
Long Plain First Nations members will elect a new chief in April of 2022.