Windmill signs letter of intent with Algonquins, gets One Planet designation

Windmill Developments marked a couple Canadian firsts Thursday, announcing collaborative agreements with the Algonquin-Anishinabe community that will ensure that community has a strong presence in the development of the former Domtar Lands.

Windmill founding partner Jeff Westeinde signed a letter of intent with Pikwakanagan chief Kirby Whiteduck that will see several collaborative initiatives, including ensuring Algonquin tradespeople work on the company’s $1-billion Zibi mixed-use development, youth mentorships are put in place and economic development partnerships and small business opportunities are created.

Mr. Whiteduck said he was also happy Windmill and Bioregional want to work to create a sustainable community around the area of the Ottawa River, which has been contaminated by years of industrial use.

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“We think that’s something the Algonquins want to be a part of and continue that legacy that we’ve always had with the territory, the land and the waters,” he said.

Mr. Westeinde said it’s too early to attach a quota to the number of Algonquin workers for the project. First an inventory of Algonquin tradespeople needs to be created.

“What we don’t want to do is set up a quota of 50 per cent and find out it’s not achievable,” he said.

There is a lot of red tape in the construction industry in Quebec that makes it difficult for Algonquin workers to get hired for work off a reserve, but Mr. Westeinde said the Commission de la Construction du Quebec and the provincial government have both been willing partners in finding a solution.

“We’re very confident we’re going to achieve success on this front,” he said, alluding to the possibility of the creation of an administrative zone that would allow the Algonquins to work freely on the project.

Mr. Westeinde also announced a new Algonquin-Anishinabe advisory council has been formed. The Memengweshii council will be an all-female group that will advise Windmill on issues of cultural heritage significance and serve as outreach within the Algonquin-Anishinabe community.

“(It’s) based on the role of women within the ancestral structure of making decisions,” council chair Brenda Odjick said. “Windmill encouraged us. They knew they would create a model that no other private sector here in the region or maybe even across Canada has done.”

Windmill also announced Zibi has secured a One Planet designation, only the 10th project in the world to reach that gold standard in sustainability. Mr. Westeinde suggested that might not have happened without the collaborative agreements in place.

“My instincts tell me we would have struggled to do that,” he said.

The One Planet designation comes from British-based Bioregional, a charity that works to create sustainable developments around the world. It differs from the LEED rating system in that it also includes social sustainability, Mr. Westeinde said.

Bioregional’s co-founder Pooran Desai called the Zibi location “a microcosm of the challenge we face globally.”

“It’s how can different people come together, different cultures come together, and how can we work together to create something which takes the best from all our heritages and builds a new culture of sustainability,” he said.

Windmill wrote a 40-page One Planet application with some aggressive targets that include zero carbon by 2020, limiting the amount of waste that will end up in a landfill to just two per cent and reducing carbon emissions from transportation by 90 per cent.

Bioregional will continue to monitor Windmill to make sure it lives up to its targets in order to keep the designation.

Decontie Construction, based on the Kitigan Zibi reserve in Maniwaki, has been tasked with recruiting, hiring and training the workforce, co-owner Wanda Thusky said.

Ms. Thusky, who is also a member of the Memengweshii advisory council, said working together with Windmill is “the most culturally appropriate way for our nation to move forward.”

“We feel that this is a pivotal time in our history where we are able to actually provide tangible results and concrete commitments between each other and to exemplify to Canada that yes, the Algonquins are no longer invisible,” she said.

“It’s about time,” she said. “Let’s start a new story.”

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