Last week, I stood on top of the mountain in the centre of Fort William First Nation, overlooking Lake Superior, the city of Thunder Bay, and my reserve. Our mountain is called Anemki Wadjiw, and is a place where the Thunder Birds visit. Thunder Bay is named for the big thunders that come through our place every year, with all their power. Standing on top of our mountain at sunrise, I saw not only my home, but my community’s territory. Much of our territory is currently occupied by industrial projects that serve Canadian interests. At this moment, a new project is threatening to get underway on top of the very mountains I was standing on.
In May 2011, Horizon Wind Inc. became the latest project proponent to position itself as a would-be colonialist, acting within provincial laws in their attempt to occupy the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation.
With their “Big Thunder Wind Park” project planned to butt-up immediately next to my reserve, Horizon Wind Inc. purports to have all the answers to my community’s concerns. People in my community move throughout our territory to hunt moose, to fish and to renew spiritual relationships. The land proposed to become a wind park is no different. We have a relationship with that land that transcends the need for electricity. And I think the moose would agree.
But this isn’t just about moose. Whereas a number of our non-Indigenous supporters have raised concerns about whether this “green” energy project will cause irreparable damage to the aesthetics of our mountains, our concerns run much deeper. For generations we have seen settler industrial projects forced on our lands; while these projects might meet the provincial or federal environmental protection guidelines of the day, such guidelines do not protect our sovereignty. In fact, it can be said that by following such guidelines, project developers such as Horizon Wind Inc. contribute to on-going colonialism in the form of “permitted” occupation of Anishinabe Aki – our territory.
When we speak out against projects such as wind farms, industrial waste sites, or any other project related to industrial capitalism proposed within our territory, we are speaking out against over 400 years of colonial encroachment and devastation that continues to affect our lives as Anishinabek. Our resistance to such projects is not about jockeying for a better deal or to protect what our place merely looks like; our resistance is our self-determination in action. We are proactively taking care of the relationships we have within our lands, which is based on our responsibility to protect our land for future generations of all the living things. While the Big Thunder Wind Park is billed as a “green” project, I say that encroachment is still encroachment, no matter how it is staged.
Our responsibility to our land is most often misunderstood by settler society. In this case, instead of beginning from a place trying to understand that a peoples could have a radically different relationship to land than Eurocentric property-based notions found in Canadian society, we are treated by Horizon Wind Inc. as if we are just another stakeholder in their project. This positions Horizon Wind Inc. as if it has some power in this situation. Supported by provincial policy frameworks that make land occupation possible, our jurisdiction is not respected because Horizon Wind Inc. cannot see beyond their own Eurocentric worldviews.
This was evident (and disrupted) when Horizon Wind Inc. attempted to hold an ‘information sharing’ meeting in my community on May 30, 2011, during which my community members displayed our self-determination as a nation. The company representatives, with all the arrogance of the colonial(Canadian) system, assumed they had power to walk into my community to justify their occupation under the guise of “green” economic development, as if “educating” us was going to placate us. But it was only our voice that spoke that day. We took over the microphones before the company representatives could begin their program. We informed them that they had no place in our territory. Many of my community members spoke passionately and clearly about our responsibility to our lands. “Consultation” for industrial projects in Indigenous lands, as it is currently defined in Canada, is simply not something we are willing to participate in when my community is already surrounded by industrial projects that continue to cause us harm. We took the responsibility to decide, and we said no.
Following that meeting, Horizon Wind Inc. issued a press release stating that my community’s resistance is “misinformed.” They also expressed disappointment because they thought the Anishinabek of Fort William First Nation were “progressive.” Lets just take this apart for a moment: if by “progressive” they meant they thought we are a peoples willing to sell-out our relationship to our territory so another company can rape our land for their own profit, then, no, we are not willing to participate in the “progress” of our own destruction. Progress, for Horizon Wind Inc., necessarily requires Anishinabek to assimilate into capitalist society.
To this, I say Horizon Wind Inc. is the misinformed party: they assume to have authority over our territory. They fail to recognize that we can speak and think for ourselves. They fail to understand that when they speak to us, they are not speaking to Canadians, but to a nation that supersedes their permits. We are a nation with which Canada has on-going responsibilities to uphold.
During all this, Canadian and provincial governments have been publicly silent in regards to our concerns as their treaty partners. This is surprising considering Horizon Wind Inc.’s Big Thunder Wind Park has the potential to perpetuate that which settler governments have vowed to end in June 2008, that is, the domination of Indigenous peoples by settler Canadians.
Damien Lee is a Fort William First Nation community member currently completing a Masters of Arts degree at the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Governance program.
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