In late January, it was announced that Illumination LeBreton was the highest ranking proposal for the LeBreton Flats redevelopment. Favoured by most, RendezVous LeBreton Group will proceed in their 3-phase expansion of the massive plot of land. However, there is still one stakeholder that needs to be consulted: The First Nations people.
LeBreton Flats has a deep connection with the Indigenous people of the region who first discovered, used and cared for the land before industrialists took over. In the present day, the Flats are regarded as traditional Algonquin territory and any use of the land must be negotiated and approved by First Nation officials. There have already been two meetings in late January and early February between the First Nations, the NCC and developers. Chiefs and other ambassadors from ten different Algonquin communities gathered to discuss the future plans for their sacred land.
Of course, with consultation comes some controversy. The first meeting was scheduled to be a presentation by promoters for the development, however, things took a defensive turn. Algonquin representatives told the presenters to leave. They wanted to discuss the plans alone with just the Nation Capital Commission. Chief Lance Haymond of the Kebaowek community voiced his displeasure with RendezVous LeBreton and their failure to collaborate with the Algonquin people given the sacredness of the land.
Chief Haymond states that “[the developers] have failed in the duty to consult and accommodate [us] given it is a sacred site for the Algonquin.” Still, he made it clear that all blame should not be placed on RendezVous LeBreton Group. He reminded “[the NCC that] it is not the promoter’s responsibility to consult, it is the federal government’s responsibility.” Both parties, being the developers as well as the government of Canada, are at fault here and the Indigenous community must stand up for their rights.
It is not the first time they have failed to include the First Nations in major plans. Previous developments at the Chaudière Falls by Windmill Development Group lacked consultation. Furthermore, a November 19, 2015 resolution was passed by the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador that deemed all levels of government are violating Canadian law by changing the status of land without meaningful dialogue and acculturation of the Algonquin communities.
However, the road goes both ways. Even though First Nations feel overlooked, an effort has been made both federally by the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and municipally by the country’s capital to recognize that the “land within the boundaries of the City of Ottawa lies within the history Algonquin Territory.” This was both outlined in the city’s “Official Plan” document of 2011 as well as at the December 2015 Assembly of First Nations held by Justin Trudeau.
With all this in mind, the Indigenous community is not against redevelopment. They simply want to ensure that the incentive behind LeBreton’s regrowth will also benefit the Algonquin communities. Chief of Pikawakanagan First Nation is seeking meaning and innovation in LeBreton Flats. This means “not just street signs and some plaques… We’re looking for and seeking some significant benefits” he states firmly.
Months after the controversial gathering with the NCC and First Nations, the City of Ottawa announced that the first Light Rail Transit stop west from downtown will be named Pimisi. Extremely well received by Indigenous representatives and communities alike, Pimisi means eel in the Algonquin language, with sacred significance being a source of spirituality, medicine and food. Public murals and mosaics will be created by Algonquin artists and an authentic eel statue will also be incorporated in the station.
In terms of LeBreton Flats, long-term strategy and economic development are amongst the opportunities the city can provide First Nations people. They’re hoping for relevant benefits beyond generic employment and training, however further consultation and negotiation is necessary. The NCC and RendezVous LeBreton Group have tentative meetings with First Nations scheduled on the LeBreton Flats development timeline before anything is finalized. The Algonquin community may be cautious for now but there is plenty of time to incorporate their history and needs into Illumination LeBreton.
Most facts and dates extracted from Leveller.ca’s article Ten Algonquin Chiefs Meet With NCC Over LeBreton Flats and Zibi Project.