Wataynikaneyap: First Nations owned transmission line

October 13, 2021

Globe and Mail – Wataynikaneyap – “the line that brings light” in Anishinaabemowin – is an 1,800-kilometre transmission line to connect 17 First Nations communities to the Ontario power grid. It’s majority-owned by 24 First Nations, and it’s being built under guiding principles they developed. Those include a requirement that the project not interfere with seasonal activities such as hunting and trapping, and that no herbicides be used along the line.
As of this month, about 60 per cent of the right-of-way for the project has been cleared and about 13 per cent of the towers have been strung with transmission wires. About 600 people are working in 12 camps along the route. In September, the Ontario Energy Board approved rates for the line, which is expected to be complete in 2023.
Wataynikaneyap is expected to prevent more than 6.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over 40 years by replacing roughly 25 million litres a year of diesel fuel. For communities, the project represents employment and training opportunities, as well as reliable electricity that will open the door to new homes, schools and businesses. And it means a steady stream of revenue from providing electricity services to communities, in partnership with Fortis and others, and with rates regulated by the Ontario Energy Board.
The federal government in 2018 announced $1.6-billion in funding for Wataynikaneyap, saying in a budget document that its contribution would be offset by no longer having to pay for diesel fuel for communities that get connected to the line. The Ontario government in 2019 announced a construction loan for the project of up to $1.3-billion, and a group of five Canadian banks provided $680-million, bringing available construction funding to just over $2-billion.
When Margaret Kenequanash, Wataynikaneyap’s CEO since 2017 talks about the project, she emphasizes future generations, including her grandchildren. Speaking roughly a week after the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, she said the day was an important time to acknowledge trauma, grief and loss, but that it also opened the door to talking about how to change the future.
“What are we going to do to make a change? What action needs to be made – as an individual, as a company, as an entity or corporation, to change history?” she said.