by A’tugwewinu “Gabriel” Castilloux

Conceptualization of Chaudière Falls development according to the Vision of Elder William Commanda (Douglas Cardinal)
Conceptualization of Chaudière Falls development according to the Vision of Elder William Commanda (Douglas Cardinal)

As of Oct. 8, the City of Ottawa has approved a rezoning of the Chaudière Falls area.

The area will be transformed into a multi-purpose community, referred to as the Isles. The plan includes approximately 1,200 residential units, 4.8 squared kilometres for retail, 17 squared kilometres for commercial space, and a hotel.

According to the City of Ottawa, the proposed site will comprise Chaudière and Albert Islands, and is part of the now-defunct Domtar paper mill lands, partially located in Gatineau.

The redevelopment would also target Asinabka, also known as Chaudière Falls, a sacred space for Indigenous peoples near Kitchi-sippi (Ottawa). The site has been used for over 5,000 years for ceremonial and traditional gatherings, activities and events.

Ottawa and Gatineau are built on the stolen land of the Anishinaabeg (Algonquin) nation. The Algonquin people still retain Aboriginal title of the land, yet their land claims remain unacknowledged and unresolved, although an agreement in principle between Ontario, Canada, and the Algonquins of Ontario was released in 2012 for public review and comment.

According to the Legacy Vision of the late Algonquin Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation Elder William Commanda, the Asinabka Eco Park should be built at the site of the sacred Chaudière Falls.

A Sept. 23 Asinabka Heritage letter to the CEO of Domtar noted that “William Commanda’s ancestors from Lac Commandant/Lac Papineau, Quebec met the first occupier of this site, Philomenon Wright, at the beginning of the 1800s, and they asserted the special significance of the place, as documented in Wright’s own papers.”

The letter affirmed the area was considered a sacred site to the Algonquins of this watershed, and had been since 1613, according to Samuel de Champlain’s personal records.

With this decision, the city of Ottawa is continuing in the colonial footsteps of Wright by ignoring the Algonquin nation which has lived in the area since time immemorial.

Elder William Commanda envisioned a redevelopment of Asinabka to include a conference centre, an interpretive centre on regional and national history, a National Indigenous Centre, and the freeing of Chaudière Falls “to the extent possible.” Renowned Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal has produced plans according to the vision of the late Elder William Commanda.

The Harper government did not provide the National Capital Commission with the funds to buy the land in order to support the plan put forward by Elder William Commanda, and the city of Ottawa has also said it does not have the money to do so. As a result, the Windmill Development Group was able to purchase the land.

The proposed residential and retail area would only serve to profit developers instead of realizing Elder William Commanda’s vision and the demands of the people.

The legacy of racism, colonialism, oppression and genocide of Indigenous people is increasingly recognized as Canada’s greatest historical and current shame. With the leadership of the Algonquin people, the federal government could work with the City of Ottawa, Domtar and Windmill Developments to realize the Asinabka redevelopment plan, thus taking legitimate steps towards healing and reconciliation between the Canadian state and the Indigenous people who have legal and historical title to the state’s territory.

The city’s plans have been met with petitions, a large anti-rezoning protest at the city development meeting on Oct. 8, and several other actions. Activists say more protests are planned for the near future.

A Facebook group called, “Don’t let the City of Ottawa ‘rezone’ unceded Algonquin territory,” actively provides updates and information about the opposition from First Nations and their allies. If local municipal leaders choose to ignore the legitimate holders and protectors of this area’s land, they will certainly come up against people taking action to make them realize they cannot rezone a sacred site for private profit.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 7, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2014).