River story goes back, way back, hundreds of years, thousands of years. Creator gives the river her original instructions so the river would always know its way, its seasonal changes, its rights and responsibilities, its roles and relationships, its joys, its movement and its obligations. All its relations — the two and the four-leggeds, the swimmers, the fliers, the crawlers — all know and love the river and revel in their relationship with her. Generation after generation of human travelers made their marks on the river story, entwined with all the other stories.
Today, those stories are etched on the rocks and shores and waters of the river, with the trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, insects, with all our relations. More stories are made every year, every day.
At this time, a story is being played out at KichiPaawitikonk, at Big Falls. Recent events have seen teams of corporate and government technicians arrive in its area to document and measure its history, composition, habitation, water flow and its potential as a source of hydroelectric power, a source of profit and economic benefit for a few.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) conducted an initial survey of the rivers in Ontario that “may have areas where water power could be harnessed and developed”. The MNR immediately sought proposals to develop three hydropower sites on the Trout Lake River. On October 11, 2007, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency received a project description for a Trout Lake River Hydroelectric Project. The proponent for this project was Horizon Hydro Inc. The site was KichiPaawitikonk, at Big Falls.
From the moment that the people of Trout Lake, the NamekosipiiwAnishinaapek, learned of this project, we voiced our intent to protect our waterways. We used every event as an opportunity to teach and further our defense of our traditional territory. In particular, this river system has always mapped our annual migration routes and the present-day paddlers get to know our history by following our ancestors’ water and portage trails.
Despite the manner in which MNR functions in it daily relations with us, we were and are still willing to work together and alongside their bureaucrats. A recent Band Council Resolution by the Lac Seul First Nation is an example of this where, in the tradition of their authority and responsibility as the original caretakers of this territory, have declared the Trout Lake River from the Trout Lake Conservation Reserve to the Bruce Lake Conservation Reserve to be protected from any and all industrial development. In the spirit of reconciliation, the First Nation and the KichiPaawitik River Park Working Group fully expect to work in cooperation and collaboration with MNR, and vice versa, to carry out this maintenance and honour work.
The work that was done and has yet to be done could not be carried out without the support and assistance of our friends and allies. One important source of support came from the Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA). ORA was instrumental in our ability to understand and meet the government requirements and deadlines in responding to various sections or stages of their EA systems and processes. We are truly grateful to ORA for their continued support.
This is particularly important in light of the work that still must be carried out. The river has always been a place for life, learning, and teaching. We can start doing that on a wider scale, with canoe trips, camping, winter trails (snowshoeing and dog teams), and water conferences. The future beckons, invites and excites, while the past is inspiring and motivating. Winter feasts at Big Falls. Medicine walks. Sweat lodge. Teaching lodge. Caretaking.
Kakina kitinawemaakaninaanak. All our relations.
Note: Over a year ago, on the 17th of May, 2013, this anonymous warrior and Ontario Rivers Alliance made Part II Order requests to the Minister of the Environment – to ask the Minister to elevate this Environmental Assessment (EA) to an Individual Environmental Assessment – which is a much more rigorous EA. We are still awaiting the Minister’s Decision. This is our only option – as these types of projects have no possibility of a “no” outcome under the current EA process. ORA is working to change the process, and to do all within our power to protect and conserve Ontario river ecosystems.
If you would like to help you can sign a petition to “Save Big Falls” here.