Bow Lake Wind Farm: First Nation Territory Debate Not Over Yet

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On July 9th, 2014 an Environmental Review Tribunal gave their final approval for the development of a 36 industrial wind turbine farm on Bow Lake. The wind project is a partnership between BluEarth Renewables and Batchewana First Nations. However, an unresolved territorial dispute between Michipitcoten First Nation (MFN) and Batchewana First Nation (BFN) could still be a wrench in the gears.

Bow Lake is located about 80 kilometers northwest of Sault Ste. Marie. The wind farm project has been sited along the eastern edge of Lake Superior and south of the Montreal River. Both First Nations claim the wind project is located in their territory.

joe buckell
Chief Joe Buckell (centre) of Michipicoten First Nation protesting the Bow Lake Project in May 2014.
The issue of territory in relationship to the Bow Lake development evolved about four years ago. According to MFN Chief, Joe Buckell, “The company was advised by the Ministry of the Environment to speak with the First Nations about development. They went and spoke to the Batchewana Band and BFN said ‘well you don’t have to talk to anybody else. This is our land.’ So we didn’t even know that happened until after.”

Chief Dean Sayers of BFN rejects Chief Buckell’s assertion that Michipicoten was excluded from the process. In an interview May 2014 with Sayers he stated, “The developer started knocking on Michipicoten’s door four years ago but they said that they weren’t interested and that it’s Batchewana territory. Two years ago at the eleventh hour when they found out we were moving forward and developing, Chief Buckell sent a letter saying that they had an interest now. So we had no problem creating an opportunity for them to be involved in the project. All the partners were protective of the confines of the contractual agreements, so we needed him to sign confidential agreements and a non-disruption agreement. But we didn’t hear back from him.”

In an interview with the Globe and Mail BluEarth vice president, Kelly Matheson-King, “said extensive consultation has taken place since the project was proposed five years ago” and “the region’s communities, including Micipicoten were notified from the start and only Batchewana stepped forward immediately, identifying the area as its traditional territory.”

Chief Buckell takes issue with the point. “There’s a big difference between ‘traditional territory’ and ‘treaty territory’. Batchewana belongs to the Robinson-Huron group,” Buckell added referring to the 1850 Robinson Treaties.

The Robinson Superior Treaty, claims that MFN territory extends along “the Northern Shore of Lake Superior in the said Province of Canada, from Batchewana Bay to Pigeon River, at the western extremity of said Lake and inland throughout that extent to the height of land which separates the territory covered by the charter of the Honorable the Hudson’s Bay Company from the said tract, and also the Islands in the said Lake within the boundaries of the British possessions therein.”

The Robinson Huron Treaty, claims that BFN territory extends along the Eastern and Northern Shores of Lake Huron, from Penetanguishine to Sault Ste. Marie, and thence to Batchewanaung Bay, on the Northern Shore of Lake Superior; together with the Islands in the said Lakes, opposite to the Shores thereof, and inland to the Height of land which separates the Territory covered by the charter of the Honorable Hudson Bay Company from Canada; as well as all unconceded lands within the limits of Canada West to which they have any just claim.”

The map below indicates Treaty territories including the Superior and Huron Treaties.

both treaty areas!

The map below pulls out the boundaries of the Michipicoten Territory as per Robinson Treaty.

superior robinson map Excellent

The map below indicates the location of the Bow Lake Wind Project.

©GaryMcGuffin NOnt Reference point Bow Lake
©GaryMcGuffin
The map below provides a closer ‘ground level’ view of where the wind turbines will be situated.

©GaryMcGuffin NOnt Ground Level Map Bow Lake
©GaryMcGuffin
Chief Sayers has publicly stated that the BFN has taken the position that the Robinson Huron Treaty does not demarcate their original territory. In an interview to CBC radio this past March he explains that BFN believes that their original territory was laid out in the 1849 Commissioner report by Vidal and Anderson but never honoured in the 1850 Robinson treaties.

dean sayers
Chief Dean Sayers speaking at an Idle No More walk during March 2014.
Though Chief Sayers was unable to provide a comment about the Vidal-Anderson report for the Northern Hoot the BFN website provides concise information about the Band’s position. “The elders say that our original territory extended from the area around Bawahting and up the coast of Lake Superior as far as what is now Pukaskwa National Park, including islands in the lake, and to the north and northeast beyond the height of land. In 1849 this territory was confirmed when two government agents, Vidal and Anderson, were sent to enquire into the traditional territories of the various First Nations. BFN continues to hold and to assert rights and interests in its original territory just as it did prior to any treaty with the Crown.”

During a conversation with Chief Sayers in May he stated of the friction between the two FN communities, “We are still open to having a productive relationship with Michipicoten. In regards to our historical differences we made a commitment that we want to sit down with our traditional keepers, our historians, our People and our Counsel. We need to live side by side. We need that to be a good relationship. It’s always been a good relationship and we don’t want this development to destroy that.”

Chief Buckell also admitted, “One of the biggest problems is that a lot of our members are related to BFN. It’s like fighting your family. It’s like a civil war.”

Chief Sayers hasn’t given up the possibility of a resolution with Michipicoten First Nation in the future. “We want to resolve the issue and want to meet with the leadership of Michipicoten. The offer is still there.

But Sayer’s offer to come together perplexed Chief Buckell who stated, “It’s like me going to your house and setting up there and telling you that you can come and talk to me. It’s all about respecting boundaries.”

It is obvious that though the provincial government has made up its mind about the Bow Lake Wind Project the territorial debate is far from over. Chief Buckell indicated that he’d consider pursuing a federal injunction to stall development. “The next thing we want to do is get a resolution through the federal government so we can come up with something that would be palatable for both sides. It could be financial or whatever. Because if there is nothing in it for us why would we support it?”

When Chief Buckell was asked to clarify his position on wind power he replied, “I’m not completely against wind power but not there (Bow Lake). But the decision isn’t up to me. I’m just one person on that Band Counsel. There are six others making a decision not just me.”

Then Chief Buckell elaborated, “When we plan we always have to think about the Seven Generations- that is 100 yrs., and even beyond that. I’ve seen what has happened in the last sixty years. I’ve lived in the bush. I hunt and trap and fish. I’ve seen the changes in the ecosystem. Places where we used to drink water, we can’t do that anymore. Places where there was fish, there are no fish anymore. And where there is no more fish, there is no more habitat for animals that eat fish- the otter, the mink. And they’re fighting amongst each other for food- their pelts are all scarred up. And that imposes on our treaty rights to hunt and fish. We’ve watched the government destroy our land over the years. And it’s maddening.”

Chief Sayers has a very different opinion about wind energy. “We’ve done our own environmental assessments that I believe are over and above the expectations of the Ministry of the Environment. We did a lot of research in the area. We brought Elders on the land to identify if we had any distinct flora, fauna and raptors that we needed to be more protective of. Our research found that it is a safe place for wind turbines. We had extensive consultation with our People and we encouraged Michipicoten to participate but the offer wasn’t taken up. We’re not trying to destroy the earth we’re trying to protect the earth.”

Sayers adds that the benefits from the wind project to the community are myriad. He anticipates that the band will hire 80 people from Batchewana First Nations as well as other First Nations people for the development of roads for the project. “At the end of the day we’ll have half a dozen full-time positions. The money generated from the project will help us with community needs- children’s programming, educational programs, housing programs, health programs and capital infrastructure development. There’s so many good things for Batchewana and the province that can come about from this.”

It is estimated that the Bow Lake Wind Farm will be installed at a cost of $240 million. Once connected to the grid $2 million could be generated annually to BFN for two decades.

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