We're 'real Algonquins' too, says group behind Tewin suburb plan

·3 min read

The Algonquins of Ontario (AOO) say a plan to create an environmentally friendly suburb in south Ottawa will give their people a chance to be part of the city's society and economy — and is indeed, despite what critics have said, a step toward reconciliation.

Last week, city councillors on a joint committee voted nine to three allowing 445 of the approximately 1,620 hectares the AOO recently bought from the Ontario government to be used for the Tewin development.

The plan to build a community of 45,000 residents with partner Taggart Group on land that's currently outside the urban boundary would show "the Algonquins are not just people of the past contained to reserves," said Wendy Jocko, Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.

Her community is the one federally recognized First Nation within the AOO, a group negotiating a giant land claim.

"What I believe is reconciliation requires a fundamental change to colonial structures and relationships," Jocko told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

The plan would allow AOO to develop the land instead of having city staff spend five more years studying the area to determine future costs and other construction factors.

Quebec chiefs who are not part of the AOO and who reject the organization's legitimacy, however, are furious they were not consulted. They have written letters to Mayor Jim Watson and council demanding input before a vote Feb. 10.

One Algonquin elder, Claudette Commanda, said she was insulted, describing the development plan not as a sign of reconciliation but simply a land deal.

"Take that reconciliation plan … tear it up and throw it away because you went back 150 years," Commanda said.

Submitted by Wendy Jocko
Submitted by Wendy Jocko

'Active, meaningful reconciliation'

Jocko, however, said she appreciates both the city's and Watson's "commitment to active, meaningful reconciliation."

Her community has partnered with its Quebec counterparts in the past and supported their efforts, she said, on efforts such as protesting the future of the former American embassy on Wellington Street.

The Tewin development, however, "is our own private project," she said.

Although Tewin would be located far from existing services, it would include a 600-hectare natural area, and the AOO hopes it'd be environmentally beneficial as residents wouldn't have to commute downtown.

People would have jobs in the community, Jocko said, and homes would be affordable.

Jocko hoped someday Algonquin communities from both Ontario and Quebec might work jointly on their own development, and that, despite the tensions, "the hand of friendship is always out."

"These recent public statements by the Quebec Algonquin chiefs are contrary to the spirit and the momentum of the nation building that I personally believed we were engaged in," Jocko said.

Debate over identity

It's not accurate for Quebec chiefs to claim that many who belong to the AOO are not "real Algonquins," said Lynn Clouthier, the group's negotiation representative for the Ottawa area.

Unlike Quebec communities, Algonquins in Ontario were never given land or a reserve from which to base themselves, Clouthier said.

Even so, she said, they didn't forget who they were.

The AOO has "rigourous criteria" for enrolment, said Clouthier, with members having to prove their family lines and show they've been living in the community with other Algonquins in traditional ways as much as they can.

"If a 'real Algonquin' is a status Indian, then the colonial body is the entity which is defining what an Indian is," Clouthier said. "And I think it's up to us to decide who we are."