The Ontario government’s renewable energy subsidies and deregulation initiatives are fuelling corruption in some aboriginal communities and funding a backlash against pro-democracy activists and the media. This new series will present reports, news and analysis on the implications of Ontario’s green energy policies for responsible aboriginal government.
The following guest column, presented by Anishinaabe artist Julian Nowgabow, reports on his investigation into the dealings of the aboriginal business/political group called Mnidoo Mnising Power (MMP). Mr. Nowgabow, a member of the Whitefish River First Nation, an MMP partner, identifies major irregularities in the business activities of the key players developing a large wind power project on Manitoulin Island.
After years of publicly expressing concerns about industrial wind power development on Manitoulin Island and resisting development proposals, including expressions of concern about aboriginal rights, key aboriginal political leaders recently performed an about-face.
Mr. Nowgabow explains how MMP was created and then how its president, Franklin Paibomsai, impersonated a public official, claiming to be a “chief” when he wasn’t while making legal commitments related to a large industrial wind power project now being developed on the Manitoulin Island. Mr. Nowgabow also documents a failure of local First Nation leadership to consult with their own people.
Paibomsai’s lawyer has threatened Mr. Nowgabow with a defamation suit. Paibomsai’s lawyer has similarly hit the local newspaper, the Manitoulin Expositor.
The Ontario government’s funding for aboriginal green ventures through measures that include a fat premium paid for green energy power purchase agreements with businesses claiming aboriginal participation and the government’s Aboriginal Energy Partnerships Program are undermining the responsible government within some First Nations communities.
“The Tortoise and the Hare”
My name is Julian Nowgabow and I am a member of the Whitefish River First Nation, in Birch Island, Ontario. This is a story of political intrigue and corporate greed, centered on a proposed industrial wind farm project on Manitoulin Island.
Manitoulin Island — also known as ‘Mnidoo Mnising’ or ‘Spirit Island’– is renowned as ‘The Largest Freshwater Island In The World’. The island economy is highly dependent on tourism — cottagers, hunters, sports fishermen, and outdoor enthusiasts. The most prominent topographical feature of the Island is McLean’s Mountain, an outcropping of the Niagara Escarpment located at the north eastern end of the island and renowned for its scenic views of the North Channel, the La Cloche Mountains, the town of Little Current, and Killarney Provincial Park.
Northland Power Incorporated, a large corporate power plant developer, has been developing a wind power project to be located on and around McLeans Mountain since approximately 2004. Northland Power secured contracts from the Ontario Power Authority to develop 60 MWs of wind generation capacity in the area and currently is pursuing 40 MWs of additional contracts. (By comparison, Manitoulin’s peak electricity demand is in the order of 16 MW.)
The United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) took an interest in Northland’s activities on the Manitoulin Island and were apprised of their intent to develop an industrial wind farm. UCCMM is a Tribal Council whose membership includes six of the Manitoulin Island’s area First Nations–Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK), M’Chigeeng, Sheguinadah, Sheshigwaning, Whitefish River, and Zhiibaasing. Many of the leaders of these First Nations were on the record as opposing wind development on Manitoulin and to this day, at least one – AOK – has two official Band Council Resolutions expressing concerns about wind development.
The UCCMM’s citizens were ill informed from the moment their leadership started to switch over to the pro-wind development side. What little was learned was through the media and through an after-the-fact bulletin. In a February 8, 2011 UCCMM ‘Community Announcement’ we were informed that, “On December 2, 2010 the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising launched Mnidoo Mnising Power Corporation…..As a result, UCCMM through MMP has decided to enter into a 50/50 partnership with Northland Power on the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm Project.”
The partnership with Northland Power was formalized on February 10, 2011; with signatories apparently committing their respective member First Nations of UCCMM to this multi-million dollar project (an early estimate listed it at $200 million). An application to the Ontario Energy Board for permission to build the high voltage transmission facilities associated with the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm passed another hurdle on May 25, 2012.
The partnership between Northland Power and MMP, and their application to the Ontario Energy Board to develop the associated high voltage transmission lines to service the project(s) has fundamental legitimacy problems.
On the day of the official partnership signing agreement between Northland and MMP, the signatory who allegedly committed the Whitefish River First Nation to this project was a candidate for ‘Chief’ in an upcoming election, with no legal authority as ‘Chief’ to enter into a binding legal contract on behalf of Whitefish River. This candidate for Chief–Franklin Paibomsai, aka, ‘Shining Turtle’–held the title of ‘Chief of the Whitefish River First Nation’ prior to January 8, 2011, but owing to a botched election (3 out of the last 5 elections have been botched), the election for Whitefish River’s Chief and Council, originally scheduled for January 8, 2011, was moved to February 12, 2011. The result was that the Whitefish River First Nation was in legal and political limbo–without Chief and Council for the interim. On January 14th, Whitefish River’s membership received a ‘Community Notice’ informing us that:
“Currently there is no residing leadership in office…all issues with regard to WRFN Governing Authority have been suspended until the next term of Chief and Council begins.”
The bright side of the delay was that there was more time for the prospective candidates to campaign. One candidate in particular–‘ShiningTurtle’–took full advantage of that opportunity and went so far as to sign this multi-million dollar partnership deal in his capacity as a citizenof Whitefish River. In a classically engineered propaganda event, cameras were rolling and flash bulbs flashing as he signed, with pen in one hand and peace pipe in the other, at the Ambassador Hotel in Sudbury. The event was covered in all the local media.
Shining Turtle, while in his previous term of office and as acting ‘Tribal Chair’ of UCCMM, was also instrumental in the timing of the grand unveiling of Mnidoo Mnising Power, creating the foundation for the subsequent 50/50 partnership deal with Northland Power. Miraculously, the unveiling of MMP just so happened to coincide with Whitefish River’s election period–beginning October 22nd, 2010.
The nature of this whole signing deal has some complexities. It should be noted that the UCCMM’s Board of Directors, under the guidance of their own constitution, “shall be composed of the Chiefs and Councilors of the Member First Nations” and that they “shall not interfere with the internal affairs of any Member First Nation.” During the interim of January 8th to February 12th of 2011, Shining Turtle was retained on the UCCMM’s Board of Directors as ‘Tribal Chair’ while in his capacity as a citizen of the Whitefish River First Nation and as a candidate for Chief in their upcoming election. On February 10th, with the support of their Board of Directors, he apparently committed the Whitefish River First Nation to this multi-million dollar project.
Shining Turtle and the rest of the UCCMM Board of Directors were fully aware that he was not a ‘Chief’ at the time of the signing of the partnership agreement but only a candidate for Chief, although both UCCMM and Northland Power promoted him as ‘Tribal Chair Chief Shining Turtle’in their media release for the partnership announcement.
The proposed McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm project was wellinto its development stages by 2009. Initially the UCCMM Chiefs were in opposition to the project because the area in question–McLean’s Mountain–falls within their ‘traditional territories’ and there was no consultation or accommodation with them–a duty of the Crown. Their opposition had delayed the project. However, according to Northland’s CEO John Brace, the Chiefs approached Northland in September of 2010 and wanted to partner with them on the McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm project.
Under Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the Renewable Energy Industry are encouraged to partner with First Nations.
”Mr Brace confirmed that, ‘If you have a First Nation partner in a project for wind projects you can get up to 1.5 cents extra on the electricity price if the First Nation is a 50 per cent partner on the project.’ But he insisted that Northland is in the partnership because, ‘It’s the right thing to do.’”–Manitoulin Expositor February 16, 2011
On February 12, 2011, Whitefish River First Nation held their election and as the result of a lot of campaigning and media hoopla, ‘Shining Turtle’ was elected into office as ‘Chief of the Whitefish River First Nation’; a grand ceremony was held, and things were glossed over and lost in the shuffle…or so it seemed.
Because of the history of election difficulties in our community, my suspicions were aroused and I took it upon myself to investigate the circumstances surrounding this proposed wind farm project. I remembered the ‘Community Notice’, searched for it and filed it for the record, but I had no recollection of there being any community consultations, so I asked other community members and they were just as much in the dark as I was. I searched for any and all information I could find. I went to the Whitefish River First Nation web site and also searched through community newsletters. Then I searched through UCCMM’s quarterly newsletters and their website. Everytime, I came up empty-handed. It seemed that there were secret meetings, but the apparently miraculous timing for the announcements surrounding this multi-million dollar deal gave further incentive to investigate.
The consultation process appeared sketchy to non-existent. While there was a Public Information Centre, ‘off-reserve’, in the local town of Little Current, the citizens of the UCCMM member First Nations, for the most part, were kept in the dark as to the activities of their Chiefs, both on the formation of Mnidoo Mnising Power and their negotiations with Northland.
M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, who is at the center of controversy over a wind farm project in his own community, brazenly went on record as saying, “We kept it at the council level,” on the issue of the UCCM partnership with Northland, while admitting that, “we didn’t go to the community.”–Manitoulin Expositor Feb. 9, 2011
The Chiefs cried to the government about lack of consultation and accommodation, but are themselves guilty of the same thing toward their own people, and in direct contravention of the objects of their constitution and their traditional practices.
After much inner debate, I decided to try to do something about this. I knew that I couldn’t address my concerns to Whitefish River First Nation’s Chief and Council, nor could I turn to the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising. My confidence in the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was low. So, I decided to write a letter to the Manitoulin Expositor. In it, I alluded to some of my personal history with Frank jr, Virgil Walker/Paibomsai, which, in light of the present circumstance, was still relevant; and I laid bare a fundamental legal issue which yet haunts the partnership agreement.
As a result of that letter, I came in contact with a community of concerned citizens. These folks include: Raymond Beaudry founder of Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives, opposing the development of industrial wind farms on Manitoulin, Patrick Corbiere a Laurentian University Native Studies Professor and political activist, and Tom Adams. I discovered that they were as concerned as I was about the questionable circumstances surrounding the partnership agreement between Northland Power and Mnidoo Mnising Power, and were working in their own ways to bring light to the darkness that was before us.
In reaction to the letter I had submitted to the Manitoulin Expositor, revealing the information I had assembled, I was sent a threatening letter from Shining Turtle and his lawyer demanding an apology and a full retraction (of my letter). I also learned that the Expositor received a similar threat and recently had a lawsuit filed against them.
The Ontario Energy Board Staff have made a recommendation that the ‘McLean’s Mountain Wind Farm’ application for Leave to Construct the transmission facilities associated with the wind development be granted, subject to proposed conditions, and “Unless otherwise ordered by the Board, authorization for Leave to Construct shall terminate June 30, 2013 unless construction of the Project has commenced prior to that date.”
Julian Nowgabow, Whitefish River First Nation