Ottawa

Plan to turn 100 Wellington into Indigenous centre caught community leaders off guard

The plan to turn a landmark building across the street from Parliament Hill into an Indigenous centre isn't sitting well with some Indigenous leaders and community members who believe they should have been consulted — or at least informed — before the news broke.

Government set to make formal announcement about building's future later this month

The former U.S. embassy on Wellington Street in Ottawa is slated to become a space dedicated to Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The plan to turn a landmark building across the street from Parliament Hill into an Indigenous centre isn't sitting well with some Indigenous leaders and community members who believe they should have been consulted — or at least informed — before the news broke.

​CBC News learned earlier this week that the former United States embassy at 100 Wellington St. will become a space dedicated to Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities.

The heritage building, which has sat vacant for nearly two decades after the U.S. embassy moved to its current location on Sussex Drive, has been the subject of public discussion and debate over its future use.

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day of the Chiefs of Ontario said the news caught him off guard, and at this point he doesn't feel he's in a position to support the idea because he and other First Nations leaders weren't consulted about it.

Isadore Day is the Ontario regional chief with the Chiefs of Ontario. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
"I'm not sure how long this discussion has been in the works, and again if this is a proposal that was cultivated by the federal government, again we go back to the adage 'nothing about us without us,'" said Day.

"I believe this has to go back to the chiefs in order for this to be looked at effectively and for the appropriate decision to be made."

Algonquin involvement

Because Ottawa sits on traditional Algonquin territory, Claudette Commanda agrees. Commanda, from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, is the granddaughter of the renowned late Algonquin elder William Commanda.

Claudette Commanda, from Kitigan Zibi, says Algonquin leaders and communities need to be involved in discussions about the future of 100 Wellington.
"First and foremost, as an Algonquin person, I think our elders should have been consulted in conjunction with our Algonquin leadership," she said.

"It's a nice gesture on behalf the government of Canada. It's a nice gesture, but there's still too much unknowns, uncertainties."

Government officials are set to make a formal announcement about the plan for 100 Wellington later this month, and launch consultations with Indigenous communities to help decide on a specific purpose​.

A 'great opportunity'

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he wasn't involved in the decision-making process to turn the building into a new Indigenous centre, but he welcomes the move.

"We have to proceed, but proceed with caution and respect. And that's all we're saying," said Bellegarde. "I think it's a great opportunity. I think it's a great announcement. But we still have to respect our Indigenous protocols."

Perry Bellegarde is the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. (CBC)
Bellegarde called the building "prime real estate" and said he'll be on hand for the government announcement later this month, and will be joined by leaders and elders from Kitigan Zibi.

Commanda said she appreciates that future discussions will involve Indigenous communities, but she wants to ensure they're done properly and respectfully.

"I think out of fairness and out of respect for protocols, the Algonquin people, the communities, need to be at that table first and foremost, before going out to consult with any other Indigenous communities," she said.

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