2 Quebec Algonquin communities back controversial Zibi development

The Zibi development on the Ottawa River, which has divided the 10 Algonquin First Nations, now has two more communities on its side.

Only Pikwàkanagàn First Nation in Ontario had so far supported Windmill's plans for former Domtar site

Wayne McKenzie, chief of Timiskaming First Nation six hours northwest of Ottawa, was at a news conference in April after his community signed a letter of intent to partner with Jeff Westeinde and his Windmill Developments on its Zibi project. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The Zibi development on the Ottawa River, which has divided the 10 Algonquin First Nations, now has two more communities on its side.

Timiskaming and Long Point, which are located in Quebec about seven hours northwest of Ottawa, have signed letters of intent with Windmill Developments. 

Windmill said those letters would outline "how Zibi will create opportunities in the region for their members, raise awareness about their people and culture in Canada's capital region and build stronger connections back to their communities."

Chief Wayne McKenzie of Timiskaming First Nation was at the job site in Gatineau Thursday, where he told a news conference he likes that Windmill takes seriously its duty to consult indigenous communities.

"Back home, we deal with a lot of mining companies, forestry companies. It takes a lot to get to a table just like this, to get an offer. Nobody does this," said McKenzie.

Employees of Decontie Construction watch Windmill Developments' Jeff Westeinde announce two more Alqonquin First Nations have signed letters of intent to partner on its Zibi project. (Kate Porter/CBC)

He hopes people from his community might benefit economically from the Zibi development, and was pleased to see the Indigenous workers employed by the Algonquin company Decontie Construction Inc.

That company moved heavy equipment onto the site earlier this month to prepare it for development.

Chief not concerned about division among communities

Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, near Golden Lake in Ontario, has supported Zibi since the beginning, and has been alone in that support among the 10 Algonquin communities recognized by the federal government.

"Through the criticisms, and whatnot, that have come our way, we have not wavered because we believe that the project is a good one. It will be good for us and it will be good for our neighbours here in the capital," said Pikwàkanagàn councillor Dan Kohoko, who was in Gatineau on behalf of chief Kirby Whiteduck.

Windmill has promised to create a $1.2 billion environmentally friendly community with condos, shops, offices, waterfront parks and pathways on the 15-hectare site, which spans both the Quebec and Ontario sides of the Ottawa River.

Other Algonquin First Nations describe the sacredness of the islands around Chaudière Falls and would like to see the land used as a cultural park.

But McKenzie said he finds sacredness in many places, so long as he's connected to the Creator. He suggested the strength of the site has been diminished by decades of industrial use and contamination.

"It's really hard to bring something back from that, when it's already been contaminated. The best we can do is try to respect it," he said. 

McKenzie is not concerned about divisions among the Algonquin people.

"Of course we're going to have our differences, but … we will unite."