Ever since the fur trade started, first nations have seen their habitat marred or stolen by other people’s business ventures.
Now the shoe is on the other foot.
Residents of a South Shore village are in an uproar over a proposed Mohawk-owned wind farm they say would disfigure the landscape and diminish their quality of life.
“If they want a wind farm, why don’t they build it in Kahnawake?” said Joane McDermott, co-founder of Le vent tourne, a citizens’ group opposing the project in St. Cyprien de Napierville, 46 kilometres south of Montreal.
Opponents of the wind farm plan to pack two information meetings Wednesday by Kahnawake Sustainable Engergies.
Hydro-Québec has invited aboriginal communities to submit proposals for small-scale wind projects to produce a total of 250 megawatts of energy starting between 2012 and 2014. In July, the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission (KEDC) and Air Energy TCI Inc. submitted a bid to build a $68-million wind farm that would produce 24 megawatts of energy in St. Cyprien. The project, to begin production in December 2013 at the earliest, would generate $2 million in annual profits.
McDermott predicted the eight turbines, to tower 125 metres (410 feet) over farmers’ fields in the flat agricultural heartland, would lower real-estate values, disrupt bird migration corridors and distress residents with their swooshing noise.
“Fighting is not my cup of tea but we don’t have the choice,” said McDermott, 58, a noted nature photographer who would see the giant windmills from her 106-acre wooded lot in St. Bernard de Lacolle.
KEDC Chief executive officer John Bud Morris said such fears are overblown. “We want people to have all the facts about the project,” he said.
Morris said that prevailing winds in Kahnawake are not strong enough for a wind farm and that putting up wind turbines in the South Shore reserve would interfere with flights at Dorval airport.
McDermott rejected that contention, pointing out that Hydro-Québec has already approved a plan by Kruger Energy for a 100-megawatt wind farm in nearby St. Isidore, St. Constant, Mercier and nearby villages.
The wind farm will be partly financed by Continent 8, an online gaming company based on the Isle of Mann. However, KEDC insists that the wind farm is not a money-laundering operation and the internet gaming venture is not involved in illegal activities.
The conflict is fuelling racist sentiments in the village of 1,500, McDermott said.
Members of the local council are hopping mad that Kahnawake is pressing ahead with its bid despite their firm opposition.
Under the rules for aboriginal wind projects, the consent of local councils is not required – a loophole that does not sit well with Mayor André Tremblay.
“They are overriding us,” said Tremblay, who promised that local officials and citizens will raise a ruckus at today’s meeting.
“These are not aboriginal lands. They’re farmers’ lands. They’ve got no business here. Our home is our home,” Tremblay said.
First nations communities have continually seen their land eroded and polluted in the name of economic development. Kahnawake lost 1,262 acres of land and was cut off from the St. Lawrence River during construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s.
Cree opposition to hydroelectric development in James Bay led to the landmark 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
Morris said there is no comparison between such battles and Kahnawake’s wind venture.
“We’ve been invited to be in St. Cyprien by the landowners. The St. Lawrence Seaway was not invited into Kahnawake,” he said.
But McDermott said only a handful of farmers stand to profit from the wind farm.
For the majority of residents, the project is unacceptable, she said.
“This is waking up the Warrior in us,” she added.
Kahnawake Sustainable Energies will hold two public meetings today in the Napierville Golf Club, 30 rang Cyr in Napierville, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. For information, visit www.ksenergies.ca
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