Mìwàte welcomes public back to sacred Chaudière Falls

Chaudière Falls, closed off from public view for a century, will reopen with an elaborate sound and light show Friday, but not everyone is ready join the welcome back party.

Elder Albert Dumont says sound and light show a mockery, not a celebration, of Indigenous culture

Mìwàte premiered Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, on Albert Island. (@2017Ottawa/Twitter)

Chaudière Falls, closed from public view for a century, will reopen with an elaborate sound and light show Friday, but not everyone is ready join the welcome back party.

Mìwàte, a production meant to celebrate Indigenous culture, premieres Friday night as part of ongoing Canada 150 celebrations in the capital. Spectators on a public viewing platform will see the roiling water of the falls illuminated to a soundtrack of upbeat music mixed with voice tracks in the Anishinaabe language. 

Ottawa 2017 organizers partnered with multimedia entertainment studio Moment Factory to produce the looping, 10-minute show after consulting with members of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, as well as local Métis and Inuit communities.

Guy LaFlamme, Ottawa 2017 executive director, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Mìwàte will be a "spiritual" experience on the Ottawa River.

"It's not historical whitewash. We're talking about the dark side of our history, residential schools, getting people to realize that First Nations have been in this area for 10,000 years," he said Thursday. 

"It's a multi-sensory experience as you feel the mist from the falls, the sound, the beautiful light projection. At times, it's going to feel like a rock concert."

Show a 'mockery,' elder says

But elder Albert Dumont, a spiritual adviser from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation, said the entire production is disrespectful to Indigenous culture. 

Elder Albert Dumont says the sound and light show is a 'mockery" of Indigenous culture. (CBC)

"It's mockery that Canadians — some people at least ...mock our spiritual beliefs with glitz and lights and that kind of thing," Dumont said.

"They would never do that with anybody else's spiritual beliefs. Nobody would ever allow that, whether it's the holy people of a synagogue, mosque, or church. They would never allow that to occur at a sacred place of theirs."

Dumont has been a vocal critic of the Zibi development on Albert Island, and of a craft festival tied to Canada 150 celebrations held there earlier this year. 

'Reconciliation is a 2-way street'

Christina Ruddy, a member of the Pikwàkanagàn First Nation and board member of Ottawa 2017, said those who worked on the show knew some in the Indigenous community would be opposed to Mìwàte, but kept an open mind throughout development.

She said Ottawa 2017 had a "deep appreciation" of Indigenous culture, and included the voices of Indigenous youth on the soundtrack.

"Reconciliation is a two-way street," she said. 

"If we can achieve a public viewing of the falls the first time in over 100 year, if we can do it culturally, if we can do it to educate, it's OK if people don't agree, but there's going to be people who want to be here, too. And we need to be cognizant of the fact that we're all in this together."

Dumont said he has no plans to see the show and would rather see no development at the site at all. 

"We need more sacred sites, not less."

Mìwàte runs Oct. 6 to 22 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and again from Oct. 23 to Nov. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. 

With files from CBC Radio