Prior to colonization, the Algonquin Anishinaabeg relied on the land and waterways now known as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and the Ottawa River. Through the gifts they provided, the Algonquin achieved mino-pimadiziwin (the good life).
It was through Nanaboozo’s hardship of living without a father, his process of seeking revenge and learning forgiveness, that human beings understand reconciliation. The Spirit of the West Wind gave the First Sacred Pipe to his son Nanaboozo, instructing him about the rituals of reconciliation that include ceremony and prayer as the practices of reunion between father and son, peoples, and nations.1
“During the historic treaty process British officials ignored the Algonquin because our very territory was becoming the heart of Canada.”
While many people think this Nanaboozo story is a romantic belief that lacks rationality, it is much more. Sacred beliefs that value the natural world are far more sustainable and intelligent than the destruction that manifests through the current economic paradigm, resulting in the polluting of our land and waterways with such things as plastic, sewage, chemicals, and radioactive particles.
During the historic treaty process British officials ignored the Algonquin because our very territory was becoming the heart of Canada. Through subjugating the Algonquin, the colonizers were able to appropriate Algonquin territory and centralize their Parliament base.
Many people today think Canada is in a better place with Indigenous nations. This is not so. Through the power gained from pilfering Indigenous land and water rights, Canada continues to divide the Algonquin through practices such as obfuscating and spinning what Canada’s treaty responsibilities are.
“In a world of economic power that lacks an understanding of the importance of preserving what is sacred, Algonquin jurisdiction and human rights continue to be pushed aside.”
Akikodjiwan and Akikpautik (Pipe Bowl Falls), located in the Ottawa River just upstream from Canada’s Parliament, are the very land and waterscapes where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe. Through colonization Akikpautik was eventually dammed, and the islands that make up the larger Akikodjiwan landscape are now called Chaudière, Albert, and Victoria Islands. It was Grandfather William Commanda’s vision to have this sacred place restored. His Asinabka plan was endorsed and promised by many.
Unfortunately, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rhetoric of respecting a “nation-to-nation” relationship and calling for “reconciliation,” the current Liberal government is permitting the further desecration of this sacred place. I offer here a timeline of the continued destruction of the ultimate place of reconciliation inscribed by Creator.
1613: Samuel de Champlain records the Anishinaabeg offering tobacco to Akikpautik (Pipe Bowl Falls), also called Asticou meaning “the boiler.” Champlain translates this as “Chaudière.”2
1806: Philemon Wright’s lumber industry begins within Algonquin traditional territory in the Ottawa River Valley.3
1854: The Government of the Province of Canada approves an Order-in-Council reserving the Chaudière Islands and adjacent area of the Ontario shoreline for public purposes.4
1856: Leases are issued so the lumber industry can harness the water’s energy for their sawmills. These lots are on Chaudière, Albert, and Victoria Islands.
1880: J.R. Booth now holds most of the lease interests on the Islands.
1908: A large ring dam is constructed extending from Chaudière Island over the entire span of the falls. Eventually E.B. Eddy takes over its operation for pulp and paper manufacturing purposes.
1913: William Commanda is born and becomes a respected knowledge holder and Grandfather. Eventually he has a vision about re-naturalizing Chaudière Falls and the Islands. He wants the sacredness of Akikpautik returned to its natural form and the islands housed with a park, an Indigenous centre, and a peace-building meeting site for all peoples. He calls his plan “Asinabka.”5
1936: Prime Minister Mackenzie King commissions Jacques Gréber to create a master plan that will govern the development of the National Capital Region.6 It was completed in 1950. Gréber concludes the most effective improvement will be the central park at the Chaudière Falls.
1958: The National Capital Commission (NCC) is established to implement Gréber’s Master Plan.
1969: The NCC purchases 40 per cent of E.B. Eddy’s operations. As a condition the NCC gains first call on E.B. Eddy’s remaining property.7
1990: Plans are announced regarding an Indigenous Centre on Victoria Island.8
1998: Grandfather Commanda consults with the NCC, Douglas Cardinal, Algonquin communities in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples regarding his Asinabka Plan.9
Domtar purchases E.B. Eddy’s operations. This does not mean Domtar purchased the land and waterscape.
2003: Grandfather Commanda asks the NCC and Domtar to produce the deeds to the Islands; nothing materializes.10
2004: The Ministry of Canadian Heritage grants Grandfather Commanda $50,000 to further conceptualize his Asinabka Plan.11
2006: The NCC endorses Asinabka and allocates $35 million toward it.12 Grandfather Commanda prophesizes, “It is a vision for the revitalization of this Sacred Site, Asinabka, at the circular Chaudière Rapids, Akikpautik: The Pipe Bowl Falls.”13
Stephen Harper is elected as prime minister and opens the doors for corporate development in respect to the Islands.14
2007: Domtar closes their paper mill operation.
2010: The City of Ottawa endorses Grandfather Commanda’s Asinabka Plan.15
2011: With great sadness, Grandfather Commanda passes into the spirit world.
2012: Domtar places their interests up for sale. The NCC applies for funds but the treasury board refuses.16
Canada permits the transfer of the Ring Dam to Energy Ottawa, a municipally owned power company.
2013: Windmill Development Group publicly announces interest in the Islands, discussing the need for re-zoning for their condominium and commercial development project.
2014: The Circle of All Nations reports that the Service Ontario Land Registry indicates Chaudière Island is not owned by Domtar.17
Ottawa City council votes in favour of Windmill’s application to re-zone the islands from “parks and open space” to “downtown mixed use.”18
Kitigan Zibi First Nation releases a statement: “Our traditional territory has always been and continues to be, Unceded. We hereby put Canada, Québec and Ontario on notice that [the] status quo, in which our Aboriginal title lands are taken up by governments and industry, is not acceptable.”19
Douglas Cardinal, Romola V. Thumbadoo-Trebilcock, Richard Jackman, Larry McDermott, and Lindsay Lambert file an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) regarding the re-zoning.20
May 2015: The City of Ottawa files a motion requesting the OMB dismiss the five appeals regarding the re-zoning due to a lack of planning grounds. This would result in the denial of a full hearing.
June 2015: The OMB pre-hearing begins with member Richard Makuch presiding.
August 2015: The Ottawa Citizen reports that Domtar sells their operations to Windmill. This involves land that Domtar has never proven they own.23 The Service Ontario Land Registry identifies Windmill as leasing the land from Domtar.
The OMB pre-hearing resumes. The appellants argue consultation is required, and that the re-zoning was a departure from the Gréber and Asinabka Plans.
The City and Windmill argue the appellants lack planning grounds, Chaudière Island is no longer an Indigenous cultural site of significance because of the industrial era, and all the land is in private hands.
Wolf Lake, Timiskaming, Eagle Village, and Barriere Lake First Nations call for the protection of Akikodjiwan.24
November 2015: Makuch dismisses the five appeals on the grounds that the re-zoning conforms to the City’s plan, the appellants failed to raise legitimate planning grounds. He also argues there was adequate consultation with Pikwàkanagàn First Nation and the organization known as the Algonquins of Ontario. In this way he imposes colonial provincial borders on the process of justice thus denying the rights of the larger Algonquin Nation that spans the Ottawa River and includes the Algonquin located in Quebec, both status and non-status Algonquin.25
Justin Trudeau is sworn in as prime minister claiming to respect the “nation-to-nation relationship” and genuine “reconciliation.”
The Assembly of the First Nations of Québec and Labrador pass a resolution to protect Akikodjiwan.26
March 2016: The appellants appear in the Ontario Divisional Court (ODC) seeking leave to appeal the OMB decision. Justice Charles T. Hackland dismisses them on the grounds the OMB made no errors of law.29
June 2016: In protest, more than five hundred people, both settler and Indigenous, walk from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill.30
December 2017: Although it is said the Tsilhoqot’in decision33,34 ushered in a new paradigm regarding Indigenous rights of consent versus consultations, on December 15, 2017, the Government of Canada approved a series of land transfers between the National Capital Commission, Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Windmill Dream Zibi for lands on islands in the Ottawa River. This happened without the consent of the larger Algonquin Nation, which includes the status and the non-status in both Quebec and Ontario.35
February 2018: As of February 5th, 2018 the Service Ontario Land Registry assigns Windmill Dream Zibi Ontario Inc. parcels of land on Chaudière Island and Albert Island.
Contrary to what the City of Ottawa, Windmill Development, and the Ontario Municipal Board argued, the appellants rested their arguments on legitimate planning grounds: Jacques Gréber’s Master Plan and Grandfather William Commanda’s Asinabka Plan. Both plans long pre-dated Windmill’s project, yet in a world of economic power that lacks an understanding of the importance of preserving what is sacred, Algonquin jurisdiction and human rights continue to be pushed aside. Clearly the Liberal government’s rhetoric of respecting a nation-to-nation relationship and seeking genuine reconciliation is a bold-faced lie.
Lynn Gehl, PhD is a member of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation. She is the author of two books: 2014’s The Truth That Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process with Fernwood Publishing; and 2017’s Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit with the University of Regina Press. You can read more of her work at www.lynngehl.com
Recommended further reading:
- Champlain, S. de. (2000). Algonquians, Hurons and Iroquois: Champlain Explores America 1603-1616. Edward Gaylord Bourne (ed.), Annie Nettleton Bourne (trans.). Dartmouth, NS: Book House Press, p. 141.
- The National Library and Archives Canada. Order-in Council Government of the Province of Canada, August 25, 1854.
- Fullerton, D. H. (1974). The Capital of Canada: How Should It Be Governed? (Vol 1). Ottawa: Information Canada, p. 39.
- A Report on the Vision for the Asinabka National Indigenous Centre – http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/occ/2010/11-19/cpsc/02-%20report%20on%20the%20vision%20for%20the%20Askiabka.htm
- 2006 Mid YearReport on William Commanda’s Work – http://www.asinabka.com/Archives/2006-06%20GWCMidYrReportH.pdf