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The spirit of Asinabka rises as Algonquin First Nations assert land rights in Canada's capital city

by Albert Dumont and Debra Huron

The Chaudiere Falls. Image from
The Chaudiere Falls. Image from
The spirit of Asinabka rises as Algonquin First Nations assert land rights in Canada's capital city
Artwork from
Artwork from

Lyrical text by Albert Dumont (South Wind), Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.

Article text by Debra Huron, citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario.

Oh Asinabka, the Place of Glare Rock (Chaudière Falls and its islands), where the medicines of the moon, wind and sun mix with the falling waters of the Kitchi Sibi (Ottawa River), thus creating a place of sacredness.

After 200 years of industrial pillage, three islands and a magnificent waterfall in the Ottawa River are once again threatened by corporate greed. Supported by the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, the federal National Capital Commission (NCC) and by the local mainstream media, Windmill Development Group and Dream Inc. are seeking to build a $1.2 billion condo complex on sacred Anishinaabe and unceded Algonquin territory.

Oh Asinabka – how we long for that time again, when the song of the land and the songs of human beings could rise as one voice, to be heard above the roar of the falls, as it was eons ago.

The late Algonquin Elder, William Commanda, whose vision of Asinabka continues to have many supporters, spent thirty of his ninety-seven years lobbying and praying for colonial officials to recognize the spiritual significance of the site. He proposed a ‘Circle of All Nations’ and called for a dedicated Algonquin cultural, healing and historic site on the islands. He also called for the Chaudière Falls to be freed from its dam, long before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began its important work.

Hundreds of years ago, before settlers from Europe arrived, Asinabka brought healing and hope to the Peoples. The energy of the waters there carried our songs of honour and praise for all things Creator placed here.

Following release of the TRC’s final report in 2015, and with a new government led by Justin Trudeau, Canada may be ripe for reconciliation. This needs to happen at all government levels, including the municipal. In 2015, five individuals launched a legal challenge to overturn the City of Ottawa’s rezoning of the islands. The ongoing case aims to stop sale of land on the islands to condo developers.

Asinabka has been lost to us for too long. Let us look to the teachings of the turtle, bear and hawk for guidance on how we should proceed from here to retrieve it.

The Kitchi Sibi is a waterway that united the Algonquin Nation before colonial times. A line on a map, right down the middle of the Ottawa River, now divides Algonquin First Nations in Ontario and Québec. Pikwakanagan, the only Algonquin First Nation located in Ontario, is supporting the corporate condo builders, lured by the promise of jobs. It is also entangled in a controversial land claim negotiation with the federal and Ontario governments that would cede traditional Algonquin territory forever.

If we are always sensible with our plans and push forward slowly and cautiously and soar with joy in our hearts as we celebrate even the smallest of victories by acknowledging spirit, we will overcome the power and influence of money and win out. Let us trust in Creator and in all things of creation to inspire and motivate us.

In August 2015, four Algonquin chiefs and communities in Québec asserted Indigenous land rights to the unceded islands, citing sections of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). In November 2015, five more Algonquin First Nations in Québec joined the fight against the condo development.

Only kind spirits emitting goodness and health danced in the wind around the Falls of Asinabka at that precious time of our past. How can anyone not want to restore such a place today, as all of us can gain from it again, emotionally and spiritually?

The Algonquin Chiefs are demanding that the sacred site be protected in perpetuity. They want it to be recognized within the National Capital Region as an Algonquin Nation Cultural Park and Historic Commemoration Site under an Algonquin controlled institution, established by the legitimate Algonquin First Nations. They are adamant that development of the islands will not happen without the full, prior and informed consent of the Algonquin Nation, as outlined in UNDRIP.

It is disheartening that at this time of reconciliation, Asinabka, also known as Akikodjiwan, our ancient place of ceremony and healing, is under threat of being forever lost to us by Windmill Developments, who have vowed to build condominiums upon it. The curse of money should never be allowed to divide our ability to be sensible, or to divide families and the people of Canada.

In November 2015, Canada announced it will implement UNDRIP, which mandates that governments obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous peoples on questions of land and resource development. Will this important duty to consult be extended to Algonquin chiefs asserting land rights at Asinabka?

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