March 30, 2017

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Celebrating Canada’s 150th: Featuring the Desecration of an Indigenous Sacred Place

Celebrating Canada’s 150th: Featuring the Desecration of an Indigenous Sacred Place

Chaudière Falls, Ottawa (Ontario) White, George Harlow (1817-1887) with superimposed Peace Pipe by Lynn Gehl, | source:

“It is absolutely never acceptable to have that kind of hate expressed in communities,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said. Further, “By doing these things, by defacing people’s property and religious sacred sites really to instill fear in communities, it’s reprehensible”.[i]

Why is it that Canadians will readily throw their arms up in the air in disgust when a Synagogue or a Mosque,[ii] such as the one in Peterborough, Ontario, is vandalized, yet when an Indigenous sacred place, such as the Chaudière Falls[iii] and the three Islands downstream, is further desecrated, rather than re-naturalized to its former holiness, Canadians don’t give a damn?

Is it because humans, pitiful as they are in understanding their location within the natural world, are of the thought that only human-made places of worship are sacred where as such the natural world offers nothing sacred? If this is true, humans are trapped in the humanistic tradition and have no concept that before humans came to the world everything was beautiful and everything was in its place. This was Creator’s gift: A beautiful place that predated our arrival so we could become the good human beings that Creator intended us to be.

An Anishinaabe teaching offers, with the coming of the Sacred Peace Pipe, “honor returned to be a guiding principle of life for many people. The sacredness of a person’s word became, once again, foremost in day-to-day transactions.”[iv]

To put this matter in settler discourse and understanding, the Chaudière Falls and the three Islands downstream‒Chaudière, Albert, and Victoria Islands‒are ancient religious grounds: A sacred meeting place for at least 5,000 years.[v] Yet it is being further destroyed.

I was fortunate to have spent time with the late Algonquin Anishinaabe Grandfather William Commanda (1913-2011), who lived in Maniwaki Quebec and was the last traditional holder of three Wampum Belts.[vi] Grandfather taught me, via the oral tradition, about the importance of the Chaudière Falls, best known as “Akikpautik”, located in the Kiji Sìbì, now known as the Ottawa River, and located just upstream from Canada’s parliament buildings.

Lynn Gehl and Sacred Pipe | Image credit: Laurie Siblock

Grandfather told me that Akikpautik translates to Pipe Bowl Falls, and that this was the place where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe, the ultimate symbol of peace and reconciliation. He told me the horseshoe aspect of the Falls was the pipe bowl where the underground water passageway that allows great amounts of water to disappear and then re-appear a distance downstream is the pipe stem. In addition, Grandfather told me that the adjacent three Islands were intended to be a peaceful meeting place, where protocol called for all weapons of harm to remain on the mainland.[vii]

Sadly through the skewed power of colonization, and the cultural genocide unleashed, in 1908-10 Canada’s early lumber industry, for the purpose of gathering the water power for industrial needs, encased Akikpautik in a huge ugly concrete ring dam and used the Islands for their saw mill headquarters.

It was Grandfather Commanda’s vision to have the Chaudière Falls and the Islands re-naturalised; to have the ugly dam removed and the Islands decommissioned and cleaned up; and for the land and waterscape to be valued again as a sacred meeting place for All peoples. Grandfather’s vision was conceptualized as Asinabka.[viii]

Through Canada’s continued colonization the Algonquin Nation remain in a fractured state where Pikwàkanagàn First Nation and the Algonquin in Ontario are being forced to relinquish their land and resource rights through the cultural genocide of Canada’s land claims process.[ix] Yet, during this same time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau relies on forked-tongue rhetoric of “a renewed nation-to-nation relationship” and the need for genuine “reconciliation”.

The dammed Chaudiere Falls | Image Credit: Dr. Peter Stockdale
The dammed Chaudière Falls | Image Credit: Dr. Peter Stockdale

Ottawa, Canada is currently expanding the hydro-electric capacity of the ring dam, digging into the sacred bedrock, and allowing Windmill, a private corporation, rooted in an economic paradigm that lacks a moral code, to further destroy the islands with the construction of a condominium and commercial complex using the confounding and obfuscating rhetoric of a ‘green clean-up operation’.[x]

While Ottawa, Canada does this, Trudeau is marketing the idea of showcasing the dam in a light show during its 150th Canada celebrations. Deceptively, Canada is marketing the illumination of the wonderful Chaudière Falls for the masses to enjoy, when in reality Canada will be illuminating an ugly dam.[xi]

Are we really this desperate for a celebration that we would allow Canada to do this? Clearly this is not reconciliation nor is it the path to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. This desecration is sacrilegious and a perpetuation of cultural genocide, yet most Canadians don’t give a damn of a different kind.[xii]




[iii] Images of the Chaudière Falls in the public domain:;;;;,_Philemon_Wright_s_on_the_Ottawa,_1821.jpg;;;

[iv] Benton-Banai, Mishomis Book, 80.









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About The Author

Lynn Gehl

Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. Her book The Truth that wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process was published in 2014 with Fernwood. She has a new book with University of Regina Press coming out in the fall of 2017 called, Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit.

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