The National Capital Commission (NCC) has confined Grandfather William Commanda’s vision for Chaudière Falls and its islands to Victoria Island—the most easterly of the three. It continues to insist that Indigenous people will be given a “welcome centre” on Victoria Island as part of its 50-year plan, to be revealed during the 150th anniversary of Canada becoming a nation state. The federal government also wants two micro-parks at both ends of Chaudière Island, far less than the central park covering all the island it favoured for 60 years.
That’s not good enough. The sacred site includes three islands—Albert, Chaudière and Victoria Island—as well as Chaudière Falls.
The project that the NCC needs to embark on will involve discussions with Algonquin First Nations (principally) who are asserting rights to the sacred site they call Akikodjiwan. In 2015, chiefs from those First Nations declared their opposition to the condos and hydro expansion and asked for support from settler Canadians in achieving their goals. Most Algonquin chiefs in the Ottawa River watershed favour an Algonquin Nation Cultural Park and Historic Commemoration Site under Algonquin control. Those demands are still being pursued, and but require the NCC to enter fully into nation-to-nation talks with all pertinent First Nations.
The islands are, at the very least, public land, and there is evidence that they are a reserve under the Indian Act. Currently, Domtar Inc. leases parts of them to Windmill Development Group. Citizens need to make sure the NCC enters into true consultations with First Nations. Ottawans and Indigenous people need to have a chance to tell the federal body responsible for the national capital whether they want to free the falls and islands.
The mega project that Windmill Development Group describes as “green” and ecologically sensitive will create swaths of hard surfaces covered in buildings on both Chaudière and Albert Islands. This is as far from green (in the sense of having trees) as one can imagine. An August 2016 investigative piece by the National Observer questioned the processes that are supposed to ensure that the companies behind the project will stick to their marketing claims over time.
In October 2014, the City of Ottawa’s planning committee voted unanimously to rezone Chaudière and Albert Islands from parkland to mixed use in support of Windmill’s proposal. Over 100 submissions opposed it. Only three industry representatives supported the change. This municipal decision is now being appealed by five citizens, including architect Douglas Cardinal, who unsuccessfully challenged it at the Ontario Municipal Board, in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice and who may appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.
Allowing thousands of people to live and work on the site will generate tax revenue for Ottawa’s municipal government. The proposed condo project is pitting indigenous people against each other. It will not honour this ancient place of peaceful worship, create a central park between Ottawa and Gatineau, rehabilitate the Ottawa River, produce an Algonquin Nation Cultural Park and Historic Commemorative site, nor manifest the elders’ vision which William Commanda and Douglas Cardinal worked for decades to achieve.
It’s time for Prime Minister Trudeau to make good on his commitment to a “renewed relationship” with Indigenous peoples. Help us make this a test case.