by Robin Burridge
WIKWEMIKONG—Last Tuesday, Wikwemikong chief and council voted to remove wind turbines from the community’s renewable energy work plan in response to substantial opposition to the project.
Wind power has been a top priority of Wikwemikong’s economic growth and sustainability plans for the past six years. “We were even assured by the band office that we would be at the top of the agenda,” said Rosemary Wakegijig, a Wikwemikong elder and community member opposed to wind turbines on Manitoulin.
Ms. Wakegijig told The Expositor her group had asked to speak to the chief and council on the wind turbine issue and were surprised to see they had not been placed on the agenda when they arrived at the meeting.
The renewable energy work plan was on the council’s agenda, and as they began discussing the wind turbine portion, Wikwemikong elder Ida Embry interrupted and began to speak of the community’s, especially the elders, opposition to wind turbines. She read a letter which Wikwemikong First Nation elders had written, signed and submitted to The Expositor. In the letter she stated that, “the elders, community members, and youth of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve do not support the industrial wind development on our sacred traditional land of Mnidoo Mnising.” The letter went on to say that “the chief and council have not done their homework on an issue so grave with an element as powerful as the wind which is the breath of God.” The letter concluded with “shaming the council and chief for authorizing wind turbines without proper consultation with the band.”
After Ms. Embry spoke, Ms. Wakegijig reported that, “many other community members stood up to express their concern and disapproval of wind farms on this sacred land.”
Ashlee Manitowabi, a concerned Wikwemikong band member, said that during the Tuesday meeting, the community expressed anger and confusion that chief Hazel Fox-Recollet and council had not properly discussed the introduction of wind turbines with the band.
Ms. Wakegijig stated that the chief and council were reminded of their people’s “obligation to their ancestors and future of their people to be carekeepers of the land for the next seven generations.”
“We hold this land and its gifts as sacred,” she continued. “We have been blessed to have plant life which is unique to our area and it would be a very sad chapter in our history if we stand by and let the pursuit of money destroy this beautiful Island,” added Ms. Wakegijig.
The community presented a petition of almost 400 signatures by Wikwemikong members against wind power on the Island. “There are more to come too, promised Ms. Wakegijig. The petition will be combined with the petition from the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA). “We are standing with our neighbours,” said Ms. Wakegijig. After hearing the concerns and opposition, council voted and resolved to removed wind turbines from the renewable energy work plan.
Chief Hazel Fox-Recollet could not be reached for comment.
“Wikwemikong’s decision is a significant event,” said Ray Beaudry, a member of MCSEA. “We are very pleased that the community was able to be heard and an informed decision was made to remove wind turbines from their work plan.”
Rick Martin of Northland Power and project manager for the McLean’s Mountain wind farm project commented on the decision saying, “I was very surprised at Wikwemikong’s chief and council’s decision to remove wind power from their plan.” He explained that he had not spoken with the chief but during his correspondence with Wikwemikong’s development team, they had expressed surprise at the decision as well.
“It is a huge setback for them not harvesting their wind recourses,” added Mr. Martin. He said that he feels that the community’s youth has especially been caught up in the “opposition propaganda” and added that his doors are always open for those who would like to see “solid facts and studies which support wind power.”
Ms. Wakegijig, Ms. Embry, and Wikwemikong community members also came as a deputation to Thursday’s Northeast Town council meeting. Ms. Wakegijig explained to council about Wikwemikong’s decision and spoke about the dangers of wind power, hoping that the Northeast council would support their cause as well. Councillors did not comment during the deputation, but Mayor Joe Chapman stood up at the end and announced that council appreciated her time, and that though he couldn’t speak for council, he personally “stands with her.” After the mayor’s stand of support, he and Ms. Wakegijig engaged in a hug.
“This is not the end for us,” said Ms. Wakegijig. “We will continue to fight alongside out neighbours to ensure that no more wind turbines are put up on our home.”