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$10 million for cultural centre

Quebec Indigenous affairs minister Ian Lafrenière, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, and Hydro Quebec CEO Michael Sabia moments after signing the historic agreement to share ownership of a major electricity transmission line. Marcus Bankuti The Eastern Door

An agreement between Hydro Quebec and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) was finalized this week, establishing shared ownership of a major energy transmission line in a deal heralded as a form of “economic reconciliation” that is the first of its kind. 

A contribution of $10 million from Hydro Quebec to the Kahnawake Cultural Arts Center (KCAC) was also announced at the signing ceremony. 

“This is all historic. This is all trailblazing,” MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said of the Hertel project. 

“We are proud of ourselves for always taking that leap and trying to establish new ground, not only for ourselves, but setting the stage for other brother and sister communities to get involved and do something historic as well.” 

Hydro Quebec chief executive officer (CEO) Michael Sabia and Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister Ian Lafrenière joined Sky-Deer at a press conference on Thursday at the Two 0 Seven steakhouse, where they signed the project agreements for the Hertel-New York Interconnection Transmission Line. 

“This is a new approach that we get today. This is thinking outside the box, and that’s why it’s a first,” said Lafrenière. 

The 58-KM Hertel Line comes at a cost of more than a billion dollars. Because of the way such projects are valued, it will be worth $345 million, but it is expected to generate revenues for the next 40 years, according to Sky-Deer. 

Kahnawake will own 10 percent of the project through an entity called Horizon Kahnawake and Hydro Quebec Limited Partnership. The MCK will have the option to increase Kahnawake’s share, which would increase the community’s exposure to economic risk but also the potential benefits. 

“Economic reconciliation is a fundamental principle going forward,” said Sabia, saying the agreement is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but that in an important way it is a template for deals with other Indigenous communities. 

“The principle of working in partnership with Indigenous communities when a project is on Indigenous lands, affects ancestral rights, that principle, yes, that’s something that’s fundamental and that we’ll be looking to do in different ways, and that we’re working on as we speak across Quebec.” 

The transmission line will run underground from La Prairie to the Richelieu River into New York State and will deliver 1,250 megawatts of electricity to New York City, enough to power a million homes, according to a joint press release. 

Sky-Deer said Kanien’kehá:ka presence and history in the region and Kahnawake’s ironworking legacy in New York City were important selling points in forging the agreements necessary to build the line. 

“I just wanted to highlight how instrumental our role and involvement in this has been because I think a lot of the times First Nations are looked at as barriers to business or the economy, but this is a precedent that shows when we get involved, we can be partners. It’s not just a pittance to say, ‘We’re going to use your land; we’re going to move forward.’ No.” 

She cast this deal as a turning point from the days when Hydro Quebec was just expropriating Kahnawake land. 

The environmental virtues of the renewable energy were touted at the event as well. Sky-Deer invoked the smokestacks of New York City’s “Asthma Alley” as an example of why better access to clean energy is needed. 

“It’s always the marginalized communities that are exposed to these kinds of things,” she said, adding that Kanien’kehá:ka have long warned of the importance of protecting the environment. 

“We’re gathering today to celebrate the signing of a historic and innovative agreement. I want to put emphasis on that last word: innovation,” said Sabia. “Because when I look to the future, one thing is crystal clear, and that is the immense challenge of the energy transition, and that challenge is only going to be met with creativity, with open minds, and that is essentially what has inspired the agreement that we are recognizing and signing today.” 

The Hertel Line nearly overshadowed a huge piece of news in the multipurpose building donation. With its $10 million contribution, Hydro Quebec is becoming the project’s leading donor outside of government funding. 

“For Kahnawake, grand chief, I know one of your priorities is celebration of the Mohawk language and culture, which is why we are so pleased to contribute $10 million toward the building of the Kahnawake cultural hub,” said Sabia. 

The announcement of Hydro Quebec’s contribution to the multipurpose building project was welcomed by the grand chief. 

“We are so grateful. It’s an immense help for the project,” Sky-Deer said. 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.