(Historical photograph of the Chaudiere Falls which is the site of the Zibi condo project. APTN/File)
APTN National News
The proponent of a controversial condo development project slated for construction on a sacred area near Parliament Hill is meddling in Algonquin internal affairs and creating tensions within communities, according to two Algonquin chiefs from Quebec.
Wolf Lake First Nation Chief Harold St. Denis and Eagle Village First Nation Chief Lance Haymond said they believe individuals employed by Windmill Development Group have been tasked with lobbying for the green condo project at this week’s Assembly of First Nations chiefs meeting held at the Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau, Que.
St. Denis and Haymond managed to get the AFN to adopt a resolution against Windmill’s Zibi condo project during the chiefs meeting Tuesday. The resolution passed with only 12 votes after 90 chiefs abstained.
The resolution calls on AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde to request the federal government, Queen’s Park, Quebec City and the Ottawa and Gatineau city halls to begin talks with the Algonquin to stop the project and turn the proposed condo site over to Algonquin control.
Haymond said individuals on Windmill’s payroll have been lobbying him and other chiefs to stop the resolution.
“I know for a fact there are members from my community attending this meeting whose efforts have been, over the past couple of days, to convince me to withdraw my support from the resolution which Chief St. Denis and I put forward yesterday,” said Haymond. “I suspect these folks are here at the request of Windmill to solicit support from various chiefs… (It) is creating tensions and dissension within some of our communities.”
St. Denis said Windmill was meddling in something that should be left up to the Algonquins to sort out.
“They are definitely interfering in Algonquin politics at this point in time. It is an issue that can be resolved by the Algonquin people themselves,” said St. Denis.
Windmill Development Group and Dream Unlimited Corp is behind the Zibi condo project which will be built on the Chaudiere and Albert islands in the Ottawa River. A portion of the project will also be constructed along the Gatineau, Que., side of the river. The proponents said the Zibi project will create “the world’s most sustainable community.” The condo’s location is on the western edge of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill precinct.
The Algonquins consider the islands to be sacred because the area has been a traditional gathering spot for their people since time immemorial.
Windmill CEO Jeff Westeinde said his firm employs individuals from several Algonquin communities, but none of them are paid to lobby.
“I have no doubt that those individuals doing the work they are doing would be supporters of the project. There is nobody that is being paid as lobbyist on our payroll,” said Westeinde.
The Zibi project is currently supported by only one federally recognized Algonquin community in Ontario. The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan tried in vain to stop the passage of the resolution against the project Tuesday.
Nine Algonquin communities in Quebec have united against the Zibi condo project because they want the area turned over to an Algonquin-controlled entity for the creation of a park and a heritage area.
The Algonquins consider the Ottawa River’s Chaudiere waterfall, also known as Akikodjiwan, along with the waterfronts and the islands in the area as sacred.
The area is home to the former Domtar paper mill and falls within overlapping territorial claims by the Algonquins of Ontario and Quebec.
St. Denis said Windmill did little to consult with the Quebec Algonquin communities, partly on the assumption that the First Nations were too far away to care about what happened on the Ottawa River islands.
“It was a site used by all Algonquin people at one time or another in the past,” said St. Denis.
Westeinde said his firm had extensive contact with Kitigan Zibi, an Algonquin community about 130 kilometres north of Ottawa, which is now opposing the project. Windmill has also previously contacted the two tribal councils representing the Quebec Algonquin communities, he said.
“We are committed to ensuring there is a strong, long-term benefit to any Algonquin community that want to participate with us,” said Westeinde. “There are several that do. Those that don’t want to engage with us we respect their view and let them be.”
Westeinde said he disagrees with the Quebec Algonquins’ call for talks with Ottawa, Queen’s Park and Quebec City on the issue.
“We are a private sector developer developing private land. The Crown or no level of government is a partner in this development,” said Westeinde. “The Crown does not involve themselves in private sector developments.”
Westeinde said he is “perplexed” by the latest turn of events.
“They clearly have reasons for doing what they are doing which isn’t clear to us,” he said.
Haymond said the condo project, as it stands, will only benefit a handful of Algonquin people, when the area should be used for the benefit of the whole nation.
“Select individuals from most of our respective communities see Windmill as a job opportunity but tend to forget that there is a bigger issue,” he said. “We as a nation have Aboriginal rights and title…The vast majority, they will never see an ounce of benefit from a project like Windmill’s.”