A group of dignitaries, including Shawn Batise, Walter Manitowabi, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier, Ron Mavin and Wiikwemkoong Councillors Margaret Manitowabi, Cecelia Pitawanakwat and Tim Ominika, cut the ribbon to celebrate the successful completion of the Wiikwemkoong IGNITE Energy and Infrastructure Project on Oct. 11 at the Wiikwemkoong High School.

By Rick Garrick

Brighter lighting in the Wikwemikong Arena is just one of the benefits community members are noticing from Wiikwemkoong Unceeded Territory’s partnership with IGNITE Infrastructure Association Inc.

“We’ve elevated the lighting level by about four or five times and reduced the cost by 60 per cent,” says Roland Kielbasiewicz, founder of IGNITE Infrastructure Association Inc. “Hockey has always been a big part of Wiikwemkoong, as well as Canadians in general, so that was one thing we really wanted to do was a great job on making the rink more user friendly.”

Walter Manitowabi, program director with IGNITE First Nations Sustainable Communities Program, says community members were “very impressed” and “very happy” with the LED lighting upgrades in the arena.

“The ice is just going in this past weekend, so the full impact is not known yet,” Manitowabi says. “But there have been events in the arena since the upgrades happened in the last month, and there have been a lot of positive comments. Everybody is looking forward to getting on the ice under the new lighting.”

The successful completion of Phase One of the Wiikwemkoong IGNITE Energy and Infrastructure Project was celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony by Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier and other dignitaries on Oct. 11 at the Wiikwemkoong High School.

“The Wiikwemkoong Unceeded Territory signed up to be our founding member,” Manitowabi says. “The first phase included a full lighting retrofit in 30 community buildings. We are just wrapping up that initial phase now, and hence we wanted to do the ribbon cutting to announce that we were completing Phase One and we are moving forward with future phases. But we also wanted wanted to use this time to officially launch the First Nations Sustainable Communities Program here in Ontario and across the country.”

The IGNITE First Nations Sustainable Communities Program was launched to help First Nation communities improve existing infrastructure assets and build new infrastructure to create healthier, prosperous and sustainable communities.

“The initial phase was lighting, where the community could see some huge savings off their energy bills,” Manitowabi says about the Wiikwemkoong project. “We estimate that the annual savings by converting to LED lighting in all 30 buildings would be in excess of $157,000 per year.”

Phase Two of the project involves further investments in energy efficiencies, such as upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and windows, doors and insulation.

“Many of these systems are original, going back 20 or 30 years,” Manitowabi says. “They are not very efficient on energy, so we are looking at a program to upgrade all these. We are completing the assessment phase now, and we are hoping to move forward with Phase Two in the coming weeks.”

Phase Three includes the development and implementation of renewable energy initiatives to further reduce the cost of energy for the community.

“We estimate that probably one-third of the houses are still on electric heat, both the baseboard heating system or the forced air electric heating system,” Manitowabi says. “Many of these community members just can’t make ends meet — we see some hydro bills in excess of a $1,000 per month during the winter months.”

Kielbasiewicz adds that IGNITE has an insurance program to underwrite equipment installed through the First Nations Sustainable Communities Program.

“If they don’t do anything, not only will the insurance policy pay to remove them and replace them back with something else, it will also compensate for the cost of labour and everything,” Kielbasiewicz says.

IGNITE Infrastructure Association Inc. is a member-driven, non-profit organization with headquarters in Oakville.