These Mountains are our Spiritual Places

Fort William First Nation along the Spiritually important Nor'Westers in Northern Ontario
Fort William First Nation along the Spiritually important Nor'Westers in Northern Ontario

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – These mountains are our spiritual places stated Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau. The Chief, speaking to media after the morning session of meetings in Thunder Bay today commented on the importance of the Nor’Wester Mountains not only to Fort William First Nation, but to Aboriginal people across North America.

While some might feel that the annual Fort William First Nation Pow Wow is the significant event, the reality is there are spiritual gatherings, events, and efforts on the traditional lands of the Ojibway people and beyond all across what the First Nations people call Turtle Island.

Intertribal Dance
The Intertribal brings the people together. On the left Clyde and Munzeroy share a memory.

Today, twenty minutes into the meeting, that included Fort William First Nation, the Province of Ontario, the City of Thunder Bay, and the Municipality of Neebing along with Horizon Legacy Inc, operating as the Big Thunder Wind Park, the company officials walked out.

The company missed a huge opportunity. 

Horizon issued a statement hours after walking out of the meetings. It is possible after reflection, the spectre of the walkout after twenty minutes of meeting hit the company?

Horizon statement

 “It was clear that Fort William First Nation wanted to speak to the Crown to provide its perspectives and clarify the Crown process.  We remain on hand to carry out and implement any on-going discussion,” said Nhung Nguyen, Vice President of Development. “Fort William First Nation was the first organization we spoke to about a wind park in Thunder Bay.  We look forward to continuing that dialogue through the life of the project.”  

It is rather hard to claim one is seeking engagement and dialogue but not willing to sit down and talk. 

The Company continues: “As we’ve said in the past, Horizon is committed to protecting the Loch Lomond watershed and the environment around the proposed wind park,” stated Anthony Zwig, Horizon CEO.   “In the years since we first sat down with Fort William First Nation to discuss the wind park, we have commissioned exhaustive studies that show no harm to either people or the environment.  To the contrary, the Big Thunder Wind Park will provide clean, renewable energy to the region.”

Current Project No Consultation with FWFN

What the wind energy company is not telling the public is that the project that they first met with Fort William First Nation about was not on the Loch Lomond Watershed. The current project and that project were, according to informed sources reporting to NetNewsLedger the Table Top Mountain proposal and the Ministry of Natural Resources shut that proposal down. Fort William First Nation Band and Council have repeatedly stated there has been no formal consultation process with the wind company. 

When one considers that 12-14 kilometres of trails have been carved out of an old growth hardwood forest along the mountains, it becomes difficult to rationalize the full benefits of green energy. The spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment has stated that she will go up and witness the massive scope of the clear-cutting of maple trees on the Nor’Westers.

The company appears to be seeking a process to engage the Fort William First Nation, with a voluntary community liaison committee.

When it is minus 20 or colder with the wind chill and dozens of people come out to protest, it appears perhaps that the company is more interested in corporate communications than in actual consultation. 

Old Growth Maple Forest Under Attack

Thunder Bay Maple Forest
Nor’Westers Old Growth Maple Forest under attack

The City of Thunder Bay has imposed a ‘gag order’ on staff, Council and Mayor over this issue. Representing the city today was City Manager Tim Commisso and Manager Mark Smith. Neither representative has issued any comment.

One can only question the full value of a company run volunteer committee in offering insight.

Sambow Boucher is a resident of Fort William First Nation who is stating that no matter what happens with the Ontario Government decision that he will lead an effort to prevent wind turbines from being installed on the Nor’Westers. Boucher has met with officials from the wind energy company. He asserts the company told him that there was room for negotiation. Boucher states that that does not appear to be the case.

It appears the company along possibly with the province of Ontario could be setting the stage for a confrontation with First Nations right here in Thunder Bay should the proposed project go forward.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment stated today there has been no decision, and there is no deadline in their view for a decision.

That statement alone, when coupled with the opposition from residents in Neebing and Fort William First Nation could have the company looking for alternatives. That could be in the long term be the wisest decision. 

That of course is just my view. Depending on what way the political winds blow, this issue appears a long way from the neat package some think that it is.

James Murray

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