After decades of living off the grid, the Algonquin community of Kitcisakik, nestled within a wildlife reserve in Western Quebec, will finally be powered by hydroelectricity.
The 400 members who reside in and around Kitcisakik, located 375 km northwest of Ottawa, have long relied on costly diesel generators to power their homes – albeit for a maximum of five to seven hours a day.
The irony? Kitcisakik is located literally down the road from a Hydro-Quebec reservoir.
“Half of the camping grounds in Quebec are better equipped than Kitcisakik – and they’re open six months a year,” explained Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
“These Anishinaabe from Kitcisakik live in Kitcisakik all year round. To me, it’s a situation that is totally unacceptable.”
The recently-confirmed Animiki Iskote Project, a collaboration between Hydro-Quebec and the Quebec government, aims to remedy the situation.
Hydro-Quebec will foot the bill for the construction and maintenance of a 25-kilovolt line through Kitcisakik.
During the May 2 announcement, hydro’s president and director-general, Sophie Brochu, acknowledged the community’s tenacity, saying they’ve been “too patient for too long.”
The project itself was named using the Anishinaabe terms for thunder and fire – or, combined, electricity.
“We’re doing this for you, and we’re going to work with you,” Brochu added.
Quebec’s Indigenous Affairs Ministry and Indigenous Services Canada will also kick in to ensure homes in Kitcisakik are modernized and can support the consistent supply of hydropower.
Though it wasn’t his first time visiting the community, Minister Ian Lafreniere recalls being taken aback by the on-the-ground conditions for folks living there.
“I was quite – I’m going to say surprised, but quite shocked,” Lafreniere explained. “Knowing that this happens in our backyard. And a lot of Quebecers don’t even know about it, to be honest.”
Jimmy Papatie, Kitcisakik’s director of infrastructure and natural resources, has long used Facebook as a means to connect the outside world to daily living in Kitcisakik.
One video from June 2020, in which Papatie takes an outdoor shower using a water reservoir mounted on the back of a pickup truck, amassed 14,000 views.
According to Papatie, a diesel generator alone will set a community member back about $5,000 – and that’s not including the $25-50 a day to fill it with diesel fuel.
“When I get my first electric bill, it will be a pleasure to pay it. I’m going to take it, laminate it, and put it on my wall,” Papatie said.
“It’s a historic day. We’re in 2022, and thanks to this announcement people can say ‘finally, I’ll have electricity. We’re done with generators.’”
In a statement, federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hadju said that access to electricity was a “fundamental need” for everyone in Canada.
“The Canadian government is proud to support and collaborate with the community of Kitcisakik, and other communities, to help them transition to clean, renewable, and durable energy sources that will contribute to the health and security of their members, as well as an improved quality of life,” Hadju wrote.
But there are other hold-outs for the community. It still doesn’t have access to a permanent water system and are required to fill jugs at a water filtration building several times a day.
In the meantime, however, local leadership is welcoming of the electrical shift.
“Today, we’ve addressed a major situation, which is electrification,” said Kitcisakik Chief Regis Penosway.
“With the climate conditions we’re living, the intense cold, we’ve now managed to protect our members with electricity.”
According to Hydro-Quebec, the project will require months of studies, engineering work, and construction.
A project of this scale, Brochu says, normally takes five years to complete.
Given the urgency of the situation, Hydro-Quebec believes it can – and will – be undertaken within 36 to 48 months.
Initial groundbreaking on the project is set to begin this summer, with a projected completion date of 2025.