On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with William Felepchuk and Brian McDougall. They are members of Stop Windmill: Student and Labour Allies for Akikodjiwan, a group that aims to bring predominantly non-Indigenous people together in support of Algonquin demands that a sacred site in the Ottawa river be protected from a proposed condominium development and returned to Algonquin ownership and stewardship.
The Chaudiere Falls and its environs, also sometimes called Akikodjiwan in the Algonquin language, has long been a sacred place and an important place of gathering and ceremony for the Algonquin people. It sits in what we know today as the Ottawa River, just a couple of kilometers west of Parliament Hill. Until relatively recently, a significant proportion of the relevant territory was used by a lumber company for industrial purposes. However, it had long been widely understood that once this company’s facility closed, the land would be used to realize a vision brought forward over many years by respected Algonquin elder William Commanda and by one of Canada’s most famous architects, Douglas Cardinal, that would have turned ownership and stewardship of the land back to the Algonquin Nation and used it to create a space of reconciliation and healing. However, a couple of years before the Harper Conservatives lost federal power, things changed rather abruptly. Much of the land was turned over to a private developer called Windmill Developments, who intend to build condos on the site.
In 2015, nine out of ten Algonquin chiefs declared their opposition to this commercial development on sacred land. To complement the ongoing organizing against the project by Algonquin people themselves, the chiefs called for non-Algonquin people to act in support of their demands. In response, Stop Windmill was founded in October 2015. The group aims not just to bring individual activists together but to draw organizations and institutions into a broad coalition. Despite efforts by the developer to confuse the issue by claiming to be particularly environmentally friendly and, most outrageously, by claiming that building condos on a sacred site is somehow an act of “reconciliation,” Stop Windmill has been very successful in drawing unions, student groups, and other predominantly non-Algonquin organizations in Ottawa into support of the demands from the nine Algonquin chiefs.
More recently, the group has begun to mobilize this broad local opposition to the project in more publically visible ways. The goal is to begin putting escalating pressure on the Liberal government, particularly through Liberal MPs in Ottawa-area ridings. This includes environment minister Catherine McKenna, who represents the riding in which the site is located. In this way, the group hopes to convince the Liberals that meeting the demands of the Algonquin chiefs is one way that the Trudeau government can begin putting some substance into its thus-far largely symbolic rhetoric of support for Indigenous peoples. And in the longer term, Felepchuk and McDougall hope that this organizing can be part of building a broad, robust, anti-colonial movement among non-Indigenous people in the Ottawa region. They speak with me about the Akikodjiwan site, about the development plans, and about the work of Stop Windmill to act in solidarity with the Algonquin demands to return this sacred place to Algonquin ownership and stewardship.
To learn more about Stop Windmill: Student and Labour Allies for Akikodjiwan, click here.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.