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Wind farm stirs up friction between first nations

A view of a wind turbine as it spins at wind farm project in Ontario.


The rugged shores and forests that skirt Lake Superior have long lured natural-resource hunters.

In the mid-1800s, British and Canadian prospectors came in search of copper and other lucrative minerals. Nearly a century later, the Group of Seven visited to draw inspiration from the land and water for their unforgettable canvases of Canada.

Today, the wind is drawing a new breed of resource seekers to the region and stirring up friction between some aboriginal groups. One energy project in particular is dividing the Batchewana and Anishinabek first nations. Led by Calgary-based BluEarth Renewables, the Bow Lake Wind Farm proposes to erect 36 turbines predominantly on provincial Crown land about 80 kilometres northwest of Sault Ste. Marie, near the eastern edge of Lake Superior and just south of the Montreal River.

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The crux of the dispute isn't the size of the turbines or their noise, factors that underlie myriad other wind-farm battles in Ontario. This quarrel centres on territory and which aboriginal group has the right to an economic share of the 60-megawatt project and its guaranteed cash flow under Ontario's green-energy program.

For Batchewana, the stakes are high. The first nation, which includes about 2,500 members, has a 50-per-cent stake in the $240-million wind farm, which has been in the works since 2007. Once the Bow Lake energy project is connected to the power grid, it is projected to deliver $2-million annually for nearly two decades to the Batchewana community, money that Chief Dean Sayers said will be used to address local needs, such as housing and economic development.

The Anishinabek's opposition, which surfaced publicly last week, could delay the project's construction and lead to financial penalties for missed deadlines, Mr. Sayers said.

"We're really concerned with this 11th-hour move," said Mr. Sayers, noting the two aboriginal groups have generally had a good relationship. "This is the first time I recall in the history of our community that there has been this rift."

Anishinabek's Northern Superior Chiefs passed a resolution last week opposing the wind farm's construction, claiming the project falls within their traditional territory (near Michipicoten first nation) and native leaders haven't been adequately consulted.

In a statement, Michipicoten Chief Joe Buckell warned "direct action by the Northern Superior Chiefs will take place" if the wind project moves forward.

"They are ignoring the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 where the boundaries are clearly stated. This needs to be addressed by the federal government," Mr. Buckell added, noting other Anishinabek communities are participating in wind farm projects.

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Mr. Buckell couldn't be reached for an interview Friday. Mr. Sayers said he plans to the meet with the Michipicoten chief next week in Sault Ste. Marie to discuss their dispute.

The Batchewana chief refutes the claim that the project is within Michipicoten's traditional territory, saying the treaty and the community's oral history show the land was once part of Batchewana.

The Robinson Treaties (Huron and Superior) were drafted to open this vast swath of Northern Ontario for mineral development. In exchange for money, access to hunting and the creation of reserves, aboriginal groups ceded rights to the minerals underground.

Kelly Matheson-King, a vice-president with BluEarth Renewables, which is shareholder in the Bow Lake Wind Farm and its lead developer, said extensive consultation has taken place since the project was proposed five years ago. She said the region's aboriginal communities, including Michipicoten, were notified from the start and only Batchewana stepped forward immediately, identifying the area as its traditional territory.

Ms. Matheson-King hopes the dispute can be resolved. She said the location is ideal for wind-energy development because it already has roads and power lines that were built for the mining and forestry industries and, of course, it gets really windy by Lake Superior, the biggest of the Great Lakes.

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About the Author
National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More


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