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Akikodjiwan: With Ottawa's Zibi Condos, Where's the Reconciliation with Algonquins?

On desecration of sacred site, Trudeau speaks of reconciliation and UNDRIP, but does not act.

by Matt Cicero

Akikodjiwan: With Ottawa's Zibi Condos, Where's the Reconciliation with Algonquins?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde on August 22, 2016 about Akikodjiwan, a sacred site threatened by condominium construction.

The “Zibi” condominiums at Akikodjiwan are a project of Windmill Development, an Ottawa-based construction company with backing from real estate financing corporation, DREAM Unlimited.

Akikodjiwan, or the Chaudière Falls and Chaudière, Albert, and Victoria Islands, is an important sacred site of the Algonquin nation, and the area was likely the Algonquins’ capital. 

“For me," says Albert Dumont, an Algonquin faith leader who has been  active in the efforts to protect Akikodjiwan, "as a First Nations Algonquin man, I see what’s at stake; to me it’s my very identity, the culture. It’s about having to stand up and be counted at a time where we reject the power of the almighty dollar and say I’m just a humble human being who wants to do what’s right,”

European settlement of the area began with Philemon Wright in 1801, though the Algonquin never ceded or surrendered any of their territory. Philemon Wright initiated the lumber industry in the region, then settlers began damming of the Ottawa river, and, finally, the settlement expanded and became a city; Ottawa. The combination of clear-cutting old growth forest, damming the river, and being pushed to the margins of their own territory devastated the Algonquin, and the region’s ecosystem.

Windmill wants to build a hotel, high-end commercial space, and luxury condominiums on the stolen land at Akikodjian. At present, there has been no construction. Demolition of the old industrial buildings on site has recently begun.

The land where Windmill wants to build belongs to the Algonquin; the band council of Kitigan Zibi filed a land claim in December of 2016 that includes Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court and The National Library and Archives, as well as Akikodjiwan. Despite this, Windmill is pre-selling condominiums.

The Prime Minister's letter in August 2016 was in response to an AFN resolution passed in December of 2015 that condemned the proposed “Zibi” condominiums and the process that had approved them. The resolution said the condominium construction would violate Canadian constitutional law and international human rights law, as well as sections 11, 12, 13 and 35 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Prime Minister’s response stated that, “the Government has recently fully endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we take very seriously our duty to consult with Indigenous Peoples as a fundamental aspect of reconciliation”.

However, so far neither the PM, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada [INAC], nor the National Capital Commission [NCC], have taken any substantive action in this case to address the violations of Canadian law and international law, including the UNDRIP. 

Indeed, planning and publicity for Canada 150 is only increasing, amplifying the hypocrisy of celebrating reconciliation and Canada’s 150th anniversary while Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Federal Court, the Provincial Court and City Hall all still stand on stolen Algonquin land. The letter from the PM only underlines the disconnection between his promises and his government’s continued support for colonial projects such as the “Zibi” condominiums.

“It’s time to put those words into action. If there is going to be reconciliation, what about reconciliation with the Algonquin?” asked Chief St-Denis, from Wolf Lake First Nation, who initiated the AFN resolution.


Protecting Akikodjiwan

There are two main methods that opponents of the condominiums are using to stop the construction. First, Algonquins are asserting their Aboriginal Rights and Title, insisting that the Crown consult with them which includes appealing to their rights under the UNDRIP. Second, people are pressuring federal and municipal politicians to use their power to stop the Zibi project.

Part of these efforts to apply political pressure and assert Algonquin Rights and Title has been through the AFN and the AFN of Quebec and Labrador. By December of 2015, both organizations had passed resolutions in support of protecting the sacred and historic area. The AFN resolution specifically directed National Chief Perry Bellegarde to write the PM, but the National Chief did not write Trudeau until July 2016, and he did so only after being reminded twice by the Algonquin Chiefs.

Even then, National Chief Bellegarde failed to tell the Algonquin Chiefs that the Prime Minister had responded until after another letter from Chief Harry St-Denis in late November, almost a full year after the AFN resolution had passed.

Presently, Stop Windmill, a group of settler allies, hopes to stop the construction by getting the City of Ottawa to refuse a $62 million dollar subsidy Windmill wants to clean up brownfield – land that was previously polluted during industrial occupation. Windmill had initially said they would pay for the clean-up themselves.

If Windmill’s plans are stopped, Chief Harry St-Denis would like to see the site returned to its original state, insofar  as possible. He believes that if it was restored it could become a major tourist attraction, as it was before the Ring dam was built in 1910.

Dumont would like, “A park, where families can go, where people of all faiths can go and share the power of their faith.” 

Chief St-Denis urged people to support the organizing that groups such as Free The Falls and Stop Windmill are doing. To take action, you can contact your municipal, provincial and federal politicians to tell them you do not want condominiums built on the sacred site.

Canada’s 150th anniversary under the Trudeau Liberal’s seems set to continue the hypocrisy and oppression that has marked Canadian policy towards Indigenous people since its founding.

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