December 08, 2023

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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”.

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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  1. Delphina Nova

    Its time that the dam be removed and the vision of Grandfather William Commanda that Lynn Gehl shares in her article be manifested. I can think of no better way in Ottawa’s capitol and unceded Algonquin ancestral lands to help begin the heaiing process to affirm by letting the waters flow freely. Canada does not need a light and sound show to commemorate 150th year of Canada’s making on the dam. The sacred falls is already the greatest light and sound show created by our Creator. Free the dam. By honoring the waters and indigenous people’s which the Parliament Buildings stand on, Canada could truly be a beacon of light and hope for the nation and the world at a time where peace-building is of utmost importance at this critical time in history.

  2. Thohahente

    First Nations people living in Canada expect this double standard illustrated in the comparison between the Federal Government’s response to the vandalizing of a mosque and to the desecration and erasure of an Indigenous sacred place.

    Having studied for six years now systemic institutional racism in Canada and how is has become normalized, it is not surprise at all that the double standard exists.

    Canada is a notation state born on the foundations of racism, genocide, apartheid, and white supremacy. This is not an opinion. It is a fact documented by independent researchers like James Daschuk, Glen Coulthard, Michael Asch, and the Government of Canada. Yes, the diaries, transcripts, and Hansard all provide factual evidence that the extermination of Indigenous Peoples was and is government policy to free up the land and resources for the benefit of a decidedly white Canadian elite and foreign multi-nationals.

    The Chaudière Falls is just another case of targeting Indigenous culture to break down traditional Indigenous ways of being. It is done with widespread public support usually accompanied by the words “to the Indians every place is sacred. Progress will never be made if we listen to them”. My research tells me this is the reaction based on commentary by everyday Canadians. This is how normalized anti-Indigenous racism is.

    The Chaudière sits on land that was never ceded to Canada. It is stolen. There is nothing to support Canada being there. Couple this fact with the normalization of the marginalization and silencing of indigenous voices that Canadians in the majority appear to support, based on their silence on saving the Chaudière, the further vandalization of the site is to be is expected.

    One hundred and fifty years and nothing has changed. Canada remains an apartheid state where the Original People have no voice and no respect.

    1. Lynn gehl

      Thank you Thohahente. It is difficult to understand the further destruction of a sacred place at this time of “reconciliation”. This is cultural genocide!

  3. Rebekah

    “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?”

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement. The fact is that we are not as tied to the land as our ancestors were, even as recently as the Baby Boomers’ generation. It is because of this that we are unable to see, or perhaps unable to ignore the harm that is caused by such destructive practices.

    I also find it incredibly ironic that, as per Grandfather Commanda, weapons were forbidden on the islands near Chaudiere, since clearly the land and waters themselves, in the forms of pollution or theft thereof, have been used as weapons against Indigenous peoples for generations.

    1. Lynn gehl

      Thank you Rebekah. It is too bad that many Algonquin don’t really understand the importance returning this space to a genuine Indigenous space of peace and worship. But this is what cultural genocide does.

  4. Colleen

    To begin with, 9 of the 10 Algonquin Bands are in full agreement in their opposition to this condo project and ring dam expansion. This is a serious consensus and should carry weight in all the conversations around this topic.
    With the great surge in public and political awareness of the need for the Canadian government to right very many wrongs, returning sacred land to the original caretakers would seem to be a good place to begin building bridge towards reconcilliation. Our government rode into an election win on the back of the extended hand of friendship to the Indigenous people –
    “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples, one that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation,” said Trudeau to loud applause from First Nations chiefs this morning. (CBC News Dec 8, 2015)

    Some day I hope to be pleasantly surprised by a political promise made to Canada’s First People. Allowing the ring dam to be expanded, and allowing the condominiums to be built on unceded and sacred Algonquin land is a travesty and a betrayal of promises made on Trudeau’s election platform. Colonialism is alive and well in our capital and waving an Eagle feather and some sage around on parliament hill doesn’t mean any more today than it did 150 years ago when all those other promises were broken.

    I’d love to hear Lindsay Lambert weigh in on this conversation. He’s a man who’s done a mountain of research on the rightful ownership of Chaudiere and the accompanying islands.

    1. Lynn gehl

      Canada is particular motivated to clear title to the land its parliament sits on because strong Indigenous nations are a threat to the imposing nation state. It is bizarre Canada is able to do this while using the rhetoric of: nation to nation and reconciliation.

  5. Rachèle Prud'homme

    Great article Lynn Gehl! What you say is sadly so true:: ”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?” It is sad because it is the other way around: everything in nature is Sacred and becomes desecrated the moment the human hands touches it. Chaudières Fall is the most Sacred Place in the World and should be preserved and considered one of the world most beautiful site. Trudeau and his comrades ought to be aware of this but are ignoring our plights. Lets not give up the fight. Meegwetch Lynn for your tenacity.

    1. Lynn gehl

      Yes humans are pitiful. The human mind is not as smart as we like to think it is. I mean really why do humans think what they create is more sacred than Creator’s work?

  6. Amy

    I like your line of thought Rachèle Prud’homme, but I am uncomfortable with it, and maybe I am not understanding fully.

    My existence aki does not desecrate. That is not something I was taught from an Indigenous principle. The notion that the existance of woman desecrates the earth and is shared with her man is from the begining of the bible. That problem is not an Anishinaabe problem.

    It is a more true statement for me to say that when the human hand alters the natural course, within that action is the thought that man, not nature or creator knows best and this is desecration. Anishinaabeg are open to the gifts around us and we live in a good way. It hurts deeply to be prevented from living as we were meant to.

    Having witnessed on a smaller scale the beauty of restoring a water course to a more natural state, I hope Akikpautik will be restored also.

  7. Luc-Anne Salm

    What struck me while reading this Lynn, is how you became inspired with what the late Algonquin Elder Grandfather William Commanda shared with you about the sacred site.
    I get told by the Windmill folks (developers) that Grandfather would be totally alright with their condo-retail-business plan for the islands because he was “open” and willing to co-create with all-nations, but obviously no one but a few have been willing to be “open” to what HE had to say about this.
    I personally also heard him talk about the profound sacredness of the Chaudière Falls and islands and the dream to have them re-naturalized and returned to his people who would in turn, share this site with the world. He cared a LOT about the wellbeing of his people and he felt strongly that sacred sites need to be used as such again and that his people and all people would be greatly benefited. He knew that his people need to spiritually connect with all four elements in these sites for their wholeness and strength, vitality and groundedness. Many people have experienced the restorative effects of the area. It is known as an energy vortex.

    1. Lynn gehl

      Grandfather would be destroy by the way his last name is being manipulated. Traditionally we only had one name and thus relatives could not rid of the morality and greatness of another’s work and words.

  8. Pamela Schreiner

    Thanks for pointing out a big fallacy that we’re suffering under to the detriment of our own collective health: “only human-made places of worship are sacred where as such the natural world offers nothing sacred?”

    We honour only the ancient, sacred sites that were built upon by humans. And we’ve lost the recognition of those sacred sites that we’ve not built upon. And it’s precisely these places that hold the biggest importance for us now in these times where we’re seeing the damage that our building and infrastructure are causing.

  9. Suzanne Keeptwo

    Such excellent, sad coverage of a country’s leadership that has become more hypocritical with time rather than courageous. Why and what are we celebrating of 150 years on this land? I would rather the light from the Star Nations shining upon Our Mother’s natural body and Blood waters…than hydro-charged flood lights on a stifled river source where eels are denied their ancestral journey, only to be concealed by concrete and “Algonquin” signage and statues draped in “green” lies. Green has only meant one thing in this country now called Canada: money. Let us all join in support of the Pikwakanagan Grandmothers and Elder Douglas Cardinal. Let us spread this word and soldier on. This is so much bigger than Standing Rock. Why is it so much easier to support fights so far away….Stand UP People. Stand UP!

  10. Robin

    Not everyone is religious and therefore not everyone believes there is such a thing as sacrilege. Similarly many appreciate nature without accepting there being a Creator of it. People have different views about property as well. And many see beauty in nature and beauty in human architecture and engineering, including dams. There’s no single view on these issues.

    1. Lynn Gehl

      Creator is a verb not a noun; and it is a force not a human. Even if a person does not believe in the sacred – it exists and it is far more rational to believe that natural entities are worth more than silly human destruction. Humans really need to work harder to get out of their selfish understanding that the world is only for them as they are destroying the earth – a earth that other beings and trees enjoy.


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