(Historical photograph of the Chaudiere Falls which is the site of the Zibi condo project. APTN/File)
APTN National News
Chiefs from Algonquin communities in Quebec are expected to call on the Assembly of First Nations to back their opposition to the proposed Zibi condo development project in Ottawa which they say would be built on “sacred” land.
The chiefs plan to introduce a resolution calling for support of their opposition to the Zibi green condo project during next month’s special AFN chiefs assembly which will be held in a Gatineau, Que., casino.
According to a draft copy of the resolution obtained by APTN National News, the chiefs will seek to ask the AFN to call on the federal government, Quebec, Ontario, the National Capital Commission along with the municipalities of Ottawa and Gatineau to begin talks on handing over the site for the proposed development to an Algonquin-controlled entity to create an “Algonquin Nation cultural park” and a historic commemoration site.
If passed, the resolution would direct AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde to write all the jurisdictions involved in the project outlining the Algonquin opposition to the project, according to the draft resolution.
“We want to make sure that the chiefs in assembly understand there is a lot more to this than just some short-term benefits for some individuals—like contracting opportunities—and we have a different idea for the site,” said Wolf Lake First Nation Chief Harry St. Denis, one of the authors of the resolution.
St. Denis said he shares the vision of late Algonquin elder William Commanda that the site for the condo should instead be “Algonquin controlled” for the benefit of “all the Algonquin people.”
The Windmill Development Group and Dream Unlimited Corp’s Zibi condo project is slated for construction on the Chaudiere and Albert islands and a portion of the shoreline along the Gatineau, Que., side of the Ottawa River.
The site is home to the former Domtar paper mill and falls within overlapping territorial claims by the Algonquins of Ontario and Quebec.
The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) is already backing the Algonquin opposition to the project after passing a similar resolution earlier this month which was seconded by Kitigan Zibi Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck.
Kitigan Zibi sits about 130 kilometres north of Ottawa and has a direct claim over the site for the proposed condo project. Whiteduck could not be reached for comment Friday.
The Zibi project, which aims to build “the world’s most sustainable community,” has the support of the Algonquin community of Pikwakanagan in Ontario.
Pikwakanagan Chief Kirby Whiteduck said it was “disconcerting” the Algonquin First Nations in Quebec were now moving to oppose the project so late in the game.
“I guess they were lobbied,” said Whiteduck. “We don’t know how it is going to unfold.”
Whiteduck said he is contemplating asking for a meeting with the Algonquins in Quebec, but he doesn’t plan to attend the special chiefs assembly.
“I am trying to find out information. Some of it is kind of new to me,” he said.
Jeff Westeinde, CEO of Windmill Development Group, said he found the Quebec Algonquin’s move to take the issue to the AFN level “frustrating” because the First Nations made no attempts to first engage with the project’s proponents.
“I don’t think the AFN is meant to be a dispute resolution body…bringing it to the AFN I am not sure is the most prudent thing to do,” he said. “So we are disappointed.”
Westeinde said his firm first reached out to Kitigan Zibi in August 2013 and has since extended the invitation to engage “numerous” times.
“They have chosen not to engage with us and instead have resorted to this,” he said. “A totally unproductive way with engaging on the project.”
St. Denis said the Algonquin communities opposed to the project have not yet determined their next steps on the issue, but legal action is always a possibility. He said he hoped Pikwakanagan would first come around to joining the other Algonquin communities to create a united front.
“It is something we should always be able to agree on. If not, then what is there we can agree on if we can’t agree on something as fundamental as this for the Algonquin nation?” he said.
The Ottawa River, also known as the Kichizib, is an ancient trade and travel route within Algonquin territory, according to the draft resolution, which mirrors the wording of the document adopted by the AFNQL.
The Algonquin consider the Chaudiere waterfall, also known as Akikodjiwan, along with the waterfronts and islands in the area as sacred.