The Assembly of First Nations chiefs passed a controversial resolution Tuesday to oppose the major development project slated to transform Ottawa’s waterfront near Chaudière Falls.
By Haley Ritchie
The resolution, which asks the AFN to oppose Windmill’s Zibi development, passed with four nays, 12 yays and 90 abstentions.
The resolution was proposed by Chief Harold St-Denis of Wolf Lake First Nation and seconded by Chief Lance Haymond of Eagle Village First Nation-Kipawa, both Algonquin bands located in Quebec north-west of Ottawa.
“It’s a very serious issue for us, it’s all around the issue of consultation, which under the new government is supposed to be heading in a new direction,” said Mr. St-Denis.
Windmill’s Zibi project aims to be one of the most sustainable communities in the world and has received support from a number of local Algonquin leaders but has also not been without opposition.
The resolution, proposed by nine Algonquin bands, calls the islands sacred territory and has calls for the former industrial lands to be de-contaminated and preserved as Algonquin-controlled parkland.
Cliff Meness, acting as a proxy chief for the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn, a band that has formally supported the Zibi project, argued against the proposal.
“Something has been hidden here from the chiefs,” said Mr. Meness.
“They talk about Algonquin nation but nowhere does it include the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn. It seems like there’s going to be a little rift between the Algonquin people and I don’t think this is the place for it to happen,” he said. “We have a number of people who are interested in employment that come from Algonquin communities.”
Mr. St-Denis described the job opportunities Windmill has proposed as a “trinket.” He suggested an Algonquin museum or a conference centre could be built instead on the islands.
Chair Harold Tarbell asked the motion to be tabled so the two groups could come to an agreement, but Mr. St-Denis said he had tried multiple times to meet with Pikwàkanagàn.
Most chiefs abstained after a concern was raised that they were being asked to “pick a side” in an Algonquin disagreement.
“Clearly the will of the assembly is that the parties work it out,” said Mr. Tarbell, although the resolution still carried due to the rules of the assembly.
The resolution asks National Chief Perry Bellegarde to write a letter opposing the project to the governments involved, the National Capital Commission and Windmill.
But Mr. Bellegarde previously said in September that he wanted to stay out of the debate but praised the “relationship-building” between Zibi and First Nations people.
It’s unclear whether he will write the letter, given the unusual circumstances of the motion that resulted in so many abstained votes.
Windmill says it’s working hard to partner with Algonquins
Speaking with Metro before the resolution was passed Jeff Westeinde, one of the founders of Windmill, said he was surprised the issue was taken to the Assembly of First Nations.
“The chiefs cite a lack of consultation, but for the last two and a half years now we’ve been reaching out. We’ve written to all of the tribal councils and or communities in Quebec and Ontario,” he said.
The outreach resulted in support and partnerships from the Algonquins of Ontario, Pikwàkanagàn chief Kirby Whiteduck in Ontario and Wanda Thusky, co-owner of Kitigan Zibi-based Decontie Construction Inc. in Quebec.
The response from Quebec was “largely silence” according to Mr. Westeinde.
“Clearly there is a difference of opinion here and bringing it to the AFN is not the most appropriate thing I think,” he said.
Mr. Westeinde said Windmill’s approach in reaching out to Algonquins is a first for private sector developers in the area.
“In an ideal world we’d love to see the Algonquin community engage with us and talk about how they can be active partners,” he said.
This article originally appeared on metronews.ca on Dec. 8.