The chief and council have not done their homework on an issue so grave with an element as powerful as the wind, which is the breath of God.”
This statement was in an open letter to the media from elders and community members of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve expressing their opposition to industrial wind development on Manitoulin Island.
Last week, elders took these concerns a step further by attending an open house put on by Northland Power and United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCM) their partner in the McLeans Mountain industrial wind turbine project. What did Northland do? They called the police.
Here is what happened, according to Ray Beaudry, one of the Directors of Manitoulin Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA): The elders informed MCSEA they had invited the clans to attend the open house the open house and following a notice sent out, Beaudry received a call from the OPP Liaison team in Orillia about the meeting.
They had been called by Northland, who had concerns there would be a protest by the First Nations and/or MCSEA and a “meeting within a meeting.”
Beaudry was able to “assure the OPP that concerns raised by the First Nations Elders and the people of Manitoulin who are opposing this project are entirely peaceful and have never been anything but courteous and law abiding at meetings.” Following standard practice, three members of the Liaison team attended the meeting in plain clothes.
As far as I could tell, the three elder spokeswomen didn’t appear to be much of a threat. Well spoken, yes, passionate about the land, yes, firm in their opposition to the proposed industrial turbines, yes but a threat, well, no. Two are in their 80s and all sat through the open house while everyone was milling about.
It was an honour to speak with Josephine Eshkibok, Ida Embry and Mary Gaiashk. Eskabok expressed their views clearly: “This is a sacred Island, and there are many spiritual leaders and great chiefs buried here.” All three talked of being afraid for the wildlife, birds especially “our eagles” and plant life. Another big issue for the women was the lack of consultation with band members. “No one asked me about it, no one asked the members if they wanted the turbines” said Eshkibok.
If you have never been to an open house put on by a power company looking to build turbines, they are basically the same every time. This one was set up exactly like the one I attended a few years ago, when two turbines were put up near Spring Bay.
They have boards with maps, points on what changes have been made and photos throughout the room. Then people with the company are around to answer questions. Power companies are required by the province to consult with the community on any projects and open houses seem to be easy way to do that.
I have written before about the conflict this project is creating in the community of Little Current and now it appears that conflict is spilling into the First Nation’s communities, as well.
Those opposing the project have, in my view, valid concerns about what this project may do to the Island. And those for the project are looking to make money. The company says they are listening to concerns of the public by reducing the number of turbines from 33 to 24, but the reality is, they had to make those changes according to guidelines laid out by the province’s Green Energy act.
But the bottom line is money. And Chief of M’Chigeeng, Joe Hare, who imitated the UCCMM partnership with Northland, said it best: “We have a vision in our community, 20 million in 20 years, and we will get there.”
If that is doable is up for debate, but at least he’s upfront about it. The reality is
M’chigeeng is going ahead with their own turbine project and next time you drive though that area look to the bluff, the clear cutting has started.
The McLeans Mountain turbine project is just one of many proposed for Manitoulin. Next week, I will write about the rest of the meeting and what the future holds for Islanders as other companies look to get in on these subsidized projects. McLeans Mountain and M’Chigeeng is just the beginning.
— Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island
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