Algonquin elder 'shocked and insulted' over Tewin land deal
'Don't call it reconciliation if it's strictly just a land purchase,' says Claudette Commanda
A week ago she offered a blessing to the city at the start of Ottawa city council's first meeting of 2021.
Now, Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda says she was "shocked and insulted" to hear Mayor Jim Watson characterize a land deal with the Algonquins of Ontario and its partner Taggart as "reconciliation."
"Don't call it reconciliation if it's strictly just a land purchase," Commanda told CBC. "You're just wrapping this up with a pretty red paper and calling it reconciliation. And it is not."
Commanda, who has taught at the University of Ottawa and led a number of institutions dedicated to promoting First Nations rights, history and culture, is one of the region's most recognizable civic leaders.
She had stood alongside the mayor as he announced the city's reconciliation plan years ago. At last week's meeting, council renamed a street after her grandfather William Commanda, and Watson proposed renaming the Prince of Wales Bridge after the late Kitigan Zibi chief.
That's why she says she was surprised and upset that the mayor would not think to reach out to her — or other Algonquins in the region — before characterizing a planning proposal as reconciliation.
And if council approves the increasingly controversial plan to include poor-scoring land owned by the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) into Ottawa's urban area in the name of reconciliation, Commanda says it will all-but-erase any good relations the city has built with the Algonquin Nation.
"If city council doesn't do the right thing, then they are part of this," she said. "So take that reconciliation plan … tear it up and throw it away because you went back one hundred and fifty years."
Tewin lands added at last moment
Commanda joins a growing chorus of voices who oppose a plan backed by Watson and many city councillors to approve — as part of reconciliation — a plan by AOO and their partner Taggart to create a 45,000-resident sustainable community called Tewin in the southeast part of the city.
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The city's planning staff scored the land poorly and recommended that the proposal for the community be further analyzed over the next few years before allowing the property into the urban area.
But a surprise motion that referenced the city's "truth and reconciliation action plan" called for the 445 hectares to be included in the urban area and was approved by nine councillors at the committee level last week.
Council is set to discuss the issue at its meeting next Wednesday.
Algonquin leaders dismayed
In the last few days, a growing number of Algonquin leaders from across the region have said that they don't consider the land deal as true reconciliation and are demanding that they be consulted on the plan.
"We write to express our strong objections and concerns with the manner in which the City of Ottawa is approaching what it calls 'reconciliation' with Indigenous groups," wrote Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in an open letter to council on Thursday.
"Reconciliation must have the proper ingredients before it is spoken as such."
Verna Polson, the grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, was also "dismayed" to learn about the mayor's support of the AOO-Taggart plan.
"If the City of Ottawa truly want to support the real First Nations and take concrete steps towards reconciliation, we strongly advise the City of Ottawa to oppose or postpone the decision on the proposal," Polson wrote in an emailed letter to the mayor.
The Algonquins of Ontario are a group that was formed in 2004 and is provincially and federally recognized to negotiate land claims with the government. The Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn are the only federally recognized Algonquin First Nation in AOO, which has led other Algonquin First Nations to argue that many members of the Ontario organization have tenuous claims to Indigenous ancestry.
Some councillors want to pause project
Some councillors are also calling for the Tewin plan to be put on hold.
Coun. Scott Moffatt said there's a desire for reconciliation at all levels of government, including municipal. They are all "trying to sort out exactly how to do that, and they probably don't always get it right.
"This is a case where maybe we didn't get it right."
Moffatt, who voted against allowing the Tewin lands into the urban area, told CBC that the AOO-Taggart proposal for a sustainable community that is walkable, transit-oriented and offers a range of housing is attractive and perhaps possible, but needs more study, as the city planners recommend.
"I don't think waiting five years to get it right is a bad thing."
Some councillors are also not sure how reconciliation fits in with making planning decisions. Coun. Jeff Leiper, who also voted against adding the Tewin lands, said that he was concerned that the new community would contribute to urban sprawl, and how the concept of reconciliation fits into the equation.
Coun. Mathieu Fleury said that if council is going to make the argument that adding the Tewin lands into the urban boundary is part of reconciliation, "we need advice from experts who can advise us on our own approved reconciliation plan."
With files from Antoine Trépanier