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Chaudière Falls, 1894-2017. Photo on the right: ©2017 Paul Couvrette

The Chaudière Falls have been the site of First Nations ceremonies for thousands of years and the region hosts archaeological evidence of First Nations settlements in this region for over 5000 years. However a paper mill and hydro station were built on the falls which blocked off their access. This particular site has not been accessible to any one for over 150 years, that is until last July when traditional dancer Joseé Bourgeois (Algonquins of Pikwakanagan) and photographer Paul Couvrette (French) gained historic access to undertake a ceremonial photo shoot and semma (tobacco) ceremony. In their Artists Statement both Couvrette and Bourgeois remarked how they believe these images are the first photographic images of a First Nations individual at this site, since the first photographs in Canada were taken in the mid 1800s.

“I really want people to make a connection to the significance and beauty of the Chaudiére Falls to the Algonquins,” said Bourgeois. “It’s a message; it tells a bigger story of whose territory they are on.” Before the photo shoot a sacred tobacco ceremony was performed. Giving semma is a way of praying and giving thanks. “It’s ceremony that hasn’t happened in a long time at that spot,” Bourgeois said. “We walked down to a rock feeling the mist from the falls and I held Paul’s hand. We put tobacco in the water together to give thanks for that day.”

Bourgeois and Couvrette met in 2015 at the Ottawa River Keepers Gala and struck up a friendship. Couvrette is an established photographer who has run a successful photography business for over 40 years credited with photographing each of the Prime Ministers of Canada since Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He has a keen interest and connection to First Nations history in the Ottawa region. Bourgeois is a traditional dancer performing across the city’s capital and is based out of Kitigan Zibi, QC. Maintaining their friendship over the years, Couvrette approached Bourgeois about doing a photoshoot on the Chaudiére Falls before securing access to the falls from Hydro Ottawa.

The message for this project is about Indigenous resilience. We are still here and we always will be. It was about re-asserting and acknowledging the First Nations presence and voices on land that has been used for sacred purposes since time immemorial. Bourgeois explained, “It was profoundly meaningful. Doors opened to reaffirm that the City of Ottawa is changing and that the First Nations, especially Algonquins, are on a good path to reclaim our territory.”

This is the first time these photographs will be seen by the public.

Excerpt of Artists Statement:

The idea originated from a desire to highlight the resilience of First Nations people in the Nation’s Capital and to acknowledge the connection of someone like Joseé, who is Algonquin, to this site. The image of Josee in traditional fancy shawl and jingle dress regalia, standing on the rock face surface inside the pipe shaped caldron at the bottom of Chaudière Falls is a strong symbol of the spirit and resilience of the Algonquin Nation and a new awakening in Canada.

Couvrette chose the site for this reason as well as the fact this his French ancestors were involved in building the Chaudière dam facility as well as working as loggers on that section of the Ottawa River for decades, and he has a tremendous amount of respect and honor for the reality of history this site carries for both First Nations and non-first Nations people. Through his friendship with Josee they were able to put this vision together and turn it into everlasting art, that was created with sincerity and respect.

Josee, she wants the other generations both younger and older to feel a sense of overwhelming pride that an Algonquin life giving mother stood on this beautiful and powerful site and was able to lay tobacco and give a prayer of thanksgiving to the Falls. She feels that her ancestors are very proud that one of their descendants and loved ones were able to be a part of the shift in times we face and the capacity of possibilities we as Algonquins can create for ourselves and our sustainability on our territory.

The images will have a range of purposes from their donation to a number of Museums to their support of fundraising primarily for First Nations and Ottawa River causes in the future. We hope they contribute to the ongoing discussion of the history of our region and the reconciliation process in Canada.

We wish to thank Ottawa Hydro and all other friends who were apart of the planning process and helped in making history with us, Migwetch.


Paul Couvrette is one of a select group of Canadians named Master Photographer by the Professional Photographers of Canada. He won Canadian Photographer of the year in 1994 and has shot for Time in the Arctic Circle and Nortel across North America. His worldwide lectures focus primarily on his friendship with the Karsh brothers and his early pioneering of digital photography. He owns the longest standing studio in Ottawa, the sole studio in the core of Ottawa owned by a photographer.

Josee Bourgeois is a member of the Algonquin’s of Pikwakanagan First Nations in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario. Most of Josee’s life has been spent growing up in big cities like Ottawa and Toronto. Ms. Bourgeois began her journey as an accomplished contemporary dancer and competitive gymnast as a young girl, by the age of 13 Josee began a very successful international career as one of Canada’s only high fashion First Nations models where she traveled all over the worl . Over the last 10 years Josee has graduated College as Valedictorian, and worked for the Federal department of Corrections Canada in Nova Scotia.

In 2014 Josee moved back to her ancestral Algonquin territory of the Ottawa valley and since then began a career as an Accreditation Coordinator for a First Nations Rehabilitation center in Kitigan Zibi, QB. To date Josee has performed in productions for The National Arts Center, Cirque du Soleil- Volta production, has been featured in documentary series on APTN and been casted in several different music videos for her dancing abilities as a First Nations traditional dancer.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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  1. sabrina godin

    There is no mention that Josee is part of a small group of Algonquin that supports the development of hundreds of condo units and retail businesses on that very site! Did she lay her tobacco down to say goodbye to the 30 plus year quest led by Algonquin Spiritual leader, William Commanda, to have the site re-naturalized with a Healing & Knowledge Centre for hosting visitors to the territory? The moment this Great Elder passed, the site was “sold” to a developer with Josee offering herself as their brand of approval. Muskrat please do an investigative article that reveals the full story of this sacred site!It’s a fascinating tragedy of betrayal.

    1. Debra Huron

      Hello Paul
      In fact, in December 2017 the privy council office through an Order in Council transferred lands on the islands to Windmill Development Group. This is what was required in order for construction of condos on Chaudiere or Albert islands to begin. A lawsuit in federal court by elders from Pikwakanagan and from Kitigan Zibi was launched in federal court in February 2018. It challenges the legality of this order in council.
      Another fact you may be interested in knowing is that in the fall of 2017, Dream Unlimited Corporation announced it is now an 80% owner of the zibi condo development. Windmill has pulled out of the child it created. Why? And what impact will Windmill’s minimal ownership have on the letters of intent it signed with various First Nations throughout unceded Algonquin territory? What if the true owner of the project decided it’s no longer expedient to honour relationships that Windmill brokered with individuals, companies and chiefs within the Algonquin Nation?
      Paul, I wonder of you can share with Muskrat readers whether you received any payment from Windmill or from Dream Unlimited to do the photo shoot? You would have needed permission from the companies to enter the site. Did they secure that permission for you or pave the way for Hydro Ottawa to give you access to the site. Of course you need only respond to these questions if you care about transparency in this journalistic context.

      1. Paul Couvrette

        How disappointing that a person with a degree in Journalism would use an ad hominem attack as you have done. To do so, you lose all credibility. The answer to your question re my being paid to do these images by anyone is 100%….no. Attacking the credibility of the messenger is low…FYI, I have FN blood traced to 1695 and an Honours Degree in Journalism…I even lectured at your school. Shame on you.

  2. Thohahente Weaver

    Leased by the Crown without FPIC of the people to whom the land belongs. Hard to understand the Muskrat supporting and celebrating an act of colonialism that serves only a corporation and not the people to whom this site is sacred.

  3. Dr. Linnéa Rowlatt

    I’m disappointed to find these images in a magazine focused on supporting Indigenous culture. My disappointment springs from knowledge of Josee Bourgeois’ activities as a redwasher and I think it is inappropriate, in this context, to portray her as someone who upholds traditional Anishinaabeg values.

    Specifically, Ms. Bourgeois is a member of the Memengweshii Cultural and Heritage Advisory Board, the group assembled and funded by Windmill Developments. Windmill’s Zibi project will see over one thousand condominiums, shops, and other profit-making ventures constructed right on this sacred site. Memengweshii’s job is to give a red stamp of approval to Zibi, downplay the sanctity of Akikodjiwan, and make sure Grandfather William Commanda’s plan for a healing and peace centre on ecologically-restored islands is never mentioned.

    The Zibi development is a tragedy. But the Memengweshii CHAB is a shame, and its members should not be celebrated in this way.

  4. Lynn Gehl

    The camera feeds and inflates the ego. Marketers and corporations actively seek out people who are more than willing to stand in front of the camera for the flattery and ego boost it provides. Many people are willing to perform for the camera versus deeply reflect on how the photographs will be used to harm the larger community. Sadly, in these contexts the performer may gain a mere few hundred dollars, while the corporation will most probably make millions.

  5. Pamela Schreiner

    These images are beautiful. They speak to me.

    And still I feel so sad.

    An old promise, repeated for over a century, is being broken. A mega-corporation wants to put privately-owned condos and businesses onto the islands adjacent to these falls. And yet the old promise to give this sacred site back to the Algonquin people is not being honoured.

    Instead, a select group of Algonquin people have been invited to assist with this private development.

    Chaudière Falls and its islands is sacred water and land; it now provides a view of the Peace Tower; it has never known war; it is the place of reconciliation. The spirit of this sacred space has been buried under years of industrialization. This spirit is waiting to return…..

    It is time for colonization, including corporations, to pull back and let the Algonquin people make a free and informed decision about what to do with this space.

    Thanks for the beautiful images that remind us of the importance of this site.


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