This letter is in response to your article dated August 30, 2016, “Walpole Island continues protest of natural gas.” I can appreciate that after a discussion with our staff, you have taken the article down from your website. We certainly feel that all perspectives should have a voice and that the media has a role to play. However, the author of the article went beyond his professional duties as a journalist and inserted himself into the chain of events, creating false expectations for our community.
Our First Nation is in the middle of construction of a natural gas distribution outfit that will service our band buildings, our commercial farm Tahgononing Enterprises, and several dozen residences. The First Nation plans to connect additional residences in a staged approach. The project has been in the making for over ten years, and was made possible with the help of capital infrastructure grant from the federal government.
Council informed the community of the project beginning in the summer of 2014. We mailed flyers, issued a press release, posted information to our website and social media, and held several community meetings.
Our Council and some of our staff attended the talking circle on Monday, August 29, 2016, after a group of outside protesters and some of our members blocked traffic on our bridge. Throughout the circle we were heckled, sworn at, and interrupted while off-reserve members pointed cameras and tape recorders at us. I want to stress to off-reserve that this is not how we normally conduct a talking circle. We must strive listen to others with courtesy and respect, and unfortunately this did not happen.
Colin Graf was present, representing the Anishinabek News. I was surprised to hear him demand an answer from me—he interrupted me as I was speaking to ask if there would be a community vote. By doing so, he crossed the lines from journalist to activist. Such a decision would have to come from Council as a collective—I do not have the individual authority to call a community vote. Unfortunately, Mr. Graf’s article created false expectations for a number of community members, and these members were understandably upset when the project resumed construction. Mr. Graf’s approach, treating a talking circle as though it was a press conference and aggressively questioning me, was unprofessional and inappropriate.
As an elected Council we have to make difficult decisions, and we can see the passion of community members who question the merits of the project. We have now paused the project three times to address the concerns of community members.
Our Council agrees that we must find ways to access green and affordable energy in order for our community to sustain itself. But in the short-term, natural gas is a way for us to reduce our energy footprint and to reduce our costs so that we can invest more into the community.
We must strive to remain a vibrant community—one that invests in education, housing, medical services, and all the necessities of a healthy community. We must continue to plan for future generations, just as our ancestors did. Please join us.