By Suzanne Keeptwo
OTTAWA—Anishinaabe/Algonquin Elders were joined by 600 supporters, including Christian groups, Muslim families, academics, labour unions, historians, and environmentalists to “walk in solidarity” to Parliament Hill on June 17.
An Ottawa urban development continues to build momentum as a plan for 1,200 condominium units – on non-surrenderd Algonquin territory – violates the Algonquin quest for recognition of their rights.
For thousands of years, the area known as Akikodjiiwan pulsed as Odawa – a Meeting Place – of many Nations. Douglas Cardinal told the walkers that when moving to Ottawa from Treaty 7, his Blackfoot Elders said “make sure to make an offering to the falls.”
In 1613, newcomers acknowledged it as sacred. Second only to Niagara, the falls were also celebrated by colonial poets, painters, naturalists, and commissioners. One accessible island continues to be used as a traditional and ceremonial meeting place.
Algonquin Elder, William Commanda, dedicated 30 years to accomplish retribution that would reawaken Akikodjiwan under the reclaimed stewardship of the Algonquin Nations. His Asinabka Vision includes a Centre of Peace, providing permanent opportunities for the host nation.
In October 2014, 114 individuals – Algonquin, First Nation, and Canadians — officially asked for the preservation of this site as Parks & Open Space rather than rezoned for urban development. The Ontario Municipal Board`s appealed decision to rezone was dismissed on May 26 stating “it is not the Board’s function to adjudicate issues of Aboriginal title, or to recognize the lands in question as a sacred site to the Algonquins.”
During the legal process, the developers opened a Sales Centre and sold over one hundred units. Algonquin activist Albert Dumont (Kitigan Zibi) asserts “anybody is entitled to think this site is not sacred but, it is – to us.”
Placards held for the walk are testament to the many concerns, including the Duty to Consult. Although 9 out of 10 Algonquin First Nations, the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and the Assembly of First Nations registered their opposition, the developers aim to build the 1.2 billion dollar condominium project as no “official” governing body is stopping them.
Many allied groups voice their opposition including The Ontario Rivers Alliance, requesting the islands “remain a natural park space where First Nations and the public can gather now and into the future”.
Dr. Lynn Gehl, Anishinaabe author of The Truth my Wampum Tells, exclaims “it is ridiculous a development is planned upon a sacred site!”
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs…the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, ceremonies, [etc]”.
Grandmother Jane Chartrand of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, declares what many support that “we need a place where we can go, that is sacred, that has been sacred since forever. We must release the falls. We need to build a Peace Centre.”
Akikodjiwan is unique for its archeological, historical, environmental, cultural, and spiritual significance and the Asinabka Vision is to celebrate that – for all Canadians. While the National Capital Commission’s mandate is “dedicated to ensuring that Canada’s Capital is a source of pride for all Canadians and a legacy for generations to come” and it “cares for and protects vital public places that are unique to our nation’s symbolic, natural and cultural heritage”, it supports the development.
Elder Evelyn Commanda (Kitigan Zibi), a niece raised as a daughter to Grandfather William, prays for unity and understanding to stop the proposed development. She addresses the crowd with “My father would have said Miigwech to all of you.”
It was then two eagles were noticed circling overhead. Perhaps they were looking for a place to land for some time– much like their ancestors – who do not pray in concrete buildings, but need a place of natural peace when the pulse of the city becomes too much.