M’Chigeeng launches wind farm, first for an Ontario First Nation

by Robin Burridge

M’CHIGEENG—Last Tuesday marked a momentous occasion for M’Chigeeng First Nations as they officially broke ground on their Mother Earth Renewable Energy project (MERE). The MERE wind farm project has been over six years in the making, and is the first independently First Nations owned wind farm in Ontario.

The day began with a sunrise ceremony followed by a public ground breaking ceremony atop the bluffs, at the wind farm site. Chief Joe Hare led the ceremony with the assistance of elder Alma Jean Migwans.

“We gather here today to give thanks to the creator and bless this land where the windmills will be,” announced the Chief during his opening remarks. “This project is huge for M’Chigeeng.

Ms. Migwans took over and began the ceremony with a song to honour mother earth, followed by a prayer to the Creator.

“We ask forgiveness to the animals, nature, and the spirits of chiefs who were buried here on these bluffs, ” said Ms. Migwans. “We acknowledge the birds and ask them to change their course to avoid the turbines and we ask the winds to use their power. It is really amazing what we are doing, but we have to acknowledge mother earth and all her creatures.”

The chief and elder handed out tobacco and food for those in attendance to give as a symbolic offering. Slowly, members of the group approached the fire and dispensed their offerings along with a prayer.

The ceremony concluded with all the youth present running and breaking through the official groundbreaking banner. The group was invited back to the M’Chigeeng community complex for presentations and a feast.

“Today marks M’Chigeeng’s future in the making,” said Robert Beaudin, MERE General Partner Inc. president, and the master of ceremonies for the day.

Mr. Beaudin welcomed the chief to the podium who said that he wanted to explain the history of the project in order for band members to understand the journey.

He began with the project’s bringing in 2001, when chief and council allotted $75,000 to pursue an economic advancement plan. The three focuses of the plan were to build a retirement home, an ethanol plant, and a wind farm. Of the three, he explained, only the wind farm idea survived.

Chief Hare said it had been a long journey but the project will finally be fully operational next year, bringing in annual average revenue of $350,000 over the next 20 years. In addition, MERE partnered with Northland Power’s McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm project, which will bring in an additional $450,000 annual average revenue over 20 years.

Guest speaker Kris Steven, the executive director of Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) began the celebratory speeches by saying that, “M’Chigeeng is truly a fantastic example of a community’s ability to transform itself into a cleaner, greener place.”

Mr. Steven requested that the entire audience stand up and give themselves a round of applause because, “it took everyone in the room, including the community members, to make the MERE wind project happen.”

A letter was read from Tony Clement, the Minister for Federal Economic Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor), who wrote to congratulate M’Chigeeng on being the first aboriginal group in Ontario to embrace green energy and praised them as “trail blazers in green energy.”

Hassan Shahriar, a sales engineer for Enercon Canada Inc. the turbine creators, travelled from Montreal to attend the groundbreaking ceremony and congratulate the First Nations group on behalf of Enercon. He explained that the company started small in Germany with their founder creating one turbine in his backyard, growing the business to many in his community, eventually becoming the worldwide business it is today. He compared Enercon’s start with M’Chigeeng’s, and congratulated the community on its trailblazing, leading other aboriginal wind projects across Canada.

Graham Findlay of 3G Energy Corporation, MERE’s business consultants, spoke of his company’s beginning as well, saying that when they began their company 10 years ago, the motto was “dreams to reality.” He explained that when Chief Hare came into his Ottawa office, he knew that they were fellow dreamers.

“We have been able to be a part of the evolution of M’Chigeeng from dreams to builders and now as you stand at the doorway, about to step out onto this wonderful journey, you too can have the motto, ‘dreams to reality.'”

Billings Township mayor Austin Hunt joined the list of congratulators as he told the chief and community members that they are “very ambitious and they should be commended on reaching their goals.”

“I’m sure you will make a success of everything you take on,” said Mayor Hunt.

Even Grand Chief Pat Madahbee was in attendance, and stated “green energy is the future.”

“I wish every success to M’Chigeeng and look forward to the inspiration this project will bring neighbouring communities,” concluded Mr. Madahbee.

The chief concluded the presentations with recognizing Brenda Ense, M’Chigeeng CAO, for all her hard work throughout the MERE project and presented her with a spa gift certificate and one week paid vacation to “take a holiday and relax.”

Grant Taibossigai also received special recognition for “keeping the project together throughout the years and many obstacles.” Mr. Taibossigai was awarded a check for $5000 to take a trip or “get a hair transplant to replace all the hair lost from the stress of the project,” joked the chief.