Land & Spirit
Zibi is on unceded Algonquin Anishinabeg territory.
All of the land in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, including Parliament Hill and Zibi (to name just two examples), are the ancestral territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation. These lands were never surrendered or treatied. We have always acknowledged this, and we are working to draw attention to this widespread reality and the deep implications it has here in this part of Canada. If you own a house in the region, you too own land on unceded Algonquin Anishinabeg territory.
The land is dramatically changed from its original state.
Chaudière Island is dramatically larger than its original size; expanded with industrial fill to facilitate commercial growth. Albert Island also no longer resembles its pre-industrial dimensions. What is now the Gatineau mainland was originally an island (“Wright Island”) surrounded by water on all sides. Water levels in the area fluctuated up to 28 feet throughout the year and seasons. The islands were little more than rocks in a tumultuous rapid. The ring dam and the many dams and control structures upstream have subdued the once dramatic seasonal fluctuations. The geomorphological and archaeological evidence makes it clear that the area where Zibi will be built (which excludes Victoria Island) was largely uninhabitable and inhospitable.
Zibi does not include either Victoria Island, the Chaudière Falls, or the hydro facilities.
Many Algonquin Anishinabe believe that Victoria Island is a place of special significance for First Nations’ peoples. In the words of Grandfather William Commanda:
“Victoria Island has been the traditional spiritual meeting grounds of the Algonquin peoples for countless centuries.” Source
Victoria island is controlled by the National Capital Commission. Windmill and Dream do not and will not own Victoria Island, and the Zibi project will not include it.
As long ago as 2002, Grandfather Commanda described a rejuvenated future for Victoria Island in a vision he called Asinabka: A Healing And Peacebuilding Centre At Victoria Island. Zibi will not conflict with that vision, and we are entirely supportive of that idea.
Zibi also does not include the Chaudière Falls, or any of the land on either side of the falls, which are managed by subsidiaries of Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Québec. Zibi has no ability to undam the falls, or to remove the hydro facilities on either side of the river.
This is an area of historic significance to the Algonquin Anishinabe. But there are different views about its sacredness.
There is no doubt that the area around Chaudière Falls has had great significance to all of the peoples that have inhabited and travelled through it: the Anishinabe, other First Nations, and settlers. We are told that indigenous people met above and below the Falls, in preparation for the difficult portages required to avoid the tumultuous waters and rocks. (The archaeological evidence is clear that the Canadian Museum of History, for example, sits atop a long history of Indigenous habitation, use, and burial.) And, in the words of the late Algonquin Elder Grandfather William Commanda:
“Victoria Island has been the traditional spiritual meeting grounds of the Algonquin peoples for countless centuries.”
“The Algonquin peoples .. also gathered on special islands in the waterways across the vast expanses of land, for community meetings, council, exchanges, marriage making, burials and ceremony. Victoria Island was one such place of power on the Ottawa River.”
Remembering that Zibi does not include Victoria Island, and with great respect to all opinions and voices, there is no Anishinabeg consensus as to the sacredness of the wider Chaudière Falls area, nor of the land where Zibi will be located. In our conversations with hundreds of Algonquin men and women – Elders, band members, and elected officials – very few have raised the issue with us. When it has come up, we have heard two principal interpretations of this issue:
1. There is no Anishinabeg word for sacred in the way the English language uses it. Instead, all land, air, and water is sacred. No area more or less than another.
2. There is (or was) a spiritual or ceremonial importance to the area, but that is restricted to Victoria Island.
We know there is also a view that the entire area of Chaudieres Falls is “sacred”. We respect and do not dispute that view, but we must note that the view is not shared by all Anishinabe.
We take this question of spirituality very seriously. When we first considered Zibi, we prioritized meeting with keepers of this traditional knowledge; they encouraged us to proceed. If an Algonquin Anishinabeg vision emerges for Victoria Island, we are ready to help bring it to reality. And, of course, we would participate with open hearts at any talking circle or other gathering that would peacefully move us all forward.
This is the view of “sacredness” shared with us by the Memengweshii advisory council:
There is no Anishinabeg word that directly translates ‘sacred’. Conversely, ‘sacred’ does not accurately capture the full cultural significance of Algonquin traditions, heritage, language, practice, ceremony, etc., as it applies to how they value the spiritual essence of life.
To the Algonquin-Anishinabe, all land is sacred as it was given to the people by the Creator; no parcel of land is more sacred than another. The religious and spiritual connotations of sacred being applied to this particular site is a western construct.
The reality is that there are many Algonquin views on what defines the notion of ‘sacredness’ (even in English, ‘sacred’ has many meanings). Some of these concepts are linked to the Seven Grandfather Teachings, which are based on the following principles: honour, love, wisdom, humility, courage, respect and truth.
The land where Zibi will be located has been desecrated since the beginning of its industrial exploitation. It is paved-over, derelict, fenced-off and contaminated, and although the industrial operations have come to an end, the site continues to leach contaminants into the river. The land and water no longer support the indigenous plant and wildlife species. It is an environment that desperately needs healing, which is why the Memengweshii Council has chosen to support Zibi in that it will help restore the life and spirit of this land. Sustainable community development is not in conflict with Algonquin principles when it results in the healing of land and the advancement of People. It will take the support of many courageous people – Anishinabe and non-First Nations alike – to see this vision come to life, and to restore the land from the ongoing results of 200 years of contamination.
We further believe that the spirit and elements of Grandfather Commanda’s personal vision for Asinabka is naturally embodied and advanced by the Zibi project; we are working to bring that vision to life.