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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Algonquin Blockade Ends, Mediation Begins

17 October 2007
CPT Canada recalls team from Algonquin blockade

ROBERTSVILLE, ON: The Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations have agreed to a mediation process involving their representatives, the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the uranium exploration company Frontenac Ventures (FV). As stipulated by the mediation agreement, the Algonquins left the Robertsville Mine site on 12 October 2007 after occupying it since 28 June 2007. Christian Peacemaker Teams Canada recalled its violence reduction team from the Algonquin Blockade on 12 October as well.

The mediation process will encompass the following discussions:

--whether Frontenac's staked claims and mining lease are legally valid;

--the possibility of withdrawing traditional Algonquin land from staking and a moratorium on mineral exploration and mining;

--addressing on-the-ground concerns about the impacts of uranium drilling.

Frontenac Ventures obtained a license under the Ontario Mining Act to carry out exploratory drilling on sixty square kilometers of unceded Algonquin land. The Algonquins have never surrendered title to lands they have inhabited from time immemorial. The Royal Proclamation Act of 1763 and the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 enshrine Aboriginal title in Canadian law.

Neither FV nor the Ontario government consulted with the Algonquin people before FV began its uranium exploration program. Canadian court decisions dating back seventeen years have ruled governments must consult indigenous peoples and accommodate their concerns before undertaking resource exploitation projects on their territories. This duty to consult exists even when title to the land is in dispute. Canadian courts have also ruled that where the potential harm to indigenous rights is serious, governments should proceed only with the consent of the affected peoples.

An open-pit uranium mine would release toxic radon gas and polonium and leave behind millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings that will permanently pollute groundwater. In its 23 June 2007 Statement on Uranium Mining, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation asserted, "Uranium mining will lead directly to our social, spiritual, and cultural demise, as our collective identity--requires a continual relationship with the land . . .We do not have the option that FVC has to pack up and leave once their destruction of our lands is complete." (See . According to the mediation agreement, the Algonquins will allow FV to continue with some exploratory work, but it cannot do any drilling. The court has appointed an independent monitor to verify FV's compliance and has allowed a period of twelve weeks for the mediation.

CPT maintains that this land-use dispute is rooted in the Canadian government's historic neglect of legitimate Algonquin land and national sovereignty claims, and the unconstitutionality of the Ontario Mining Act. (The Mining Act makes no provision for consulting First Nations communities.) A mediation process that addresses the root causes of this conflict is a positive step towards resolving a long-standing injustice.

CPT sent a team to the blockade site on 3 September 2007. CPT conducted two non-violence trainings, attended court proceedings, organized a letter-writing campaign to OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, and maintained a presence at the blockade site. CPT will continue to follow developments related to the dispute closely.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Struggle Against a Uranium Mine

By Alan Slater

Frank Morrison was cutting his winter wood supply on his northern Frontenac County farm in October of 2006 when he came across stakes and severely damaged trees in his woodlot. This was the first warning that a company called Frontenac Ventures was exploring for uranium in the area. People soon learned that the Ontario government had given Frontenac Ventures permission to stake uranium claims on privately owned land and Crown land that is claimed by Algonquin First Nations people.

On June 28, 2007, the Algonquin people set up a blockade at the main gate to the exploration site. Within a few days, the white settlers in the area had formed the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium,, to support the Algonquin action. These pristine hills and forests of north Frontenac are the head waters of the Mississippi River, which flows into the Ottawa River through Carleton Place, Almonte and Packenham. People from all along the river right down to Ottawa are supporting the blockade.

Several weeks ago Christian Peacemaker Teams sent a team at the blockade. I joined the team for a week on September 16. Tents and trailers are set along the road and just inside the gates of the property. People come when they have days off work to be part of the blockade. When they go back home, they leave their tents and trailers for others to use. A circle of some 20 chairs is drawn up around an open fire in front of the gate. People come and go, bring coffee and snacks, and stop awhile to get news about the latest court actions. Inside the gates, generators provide power to run a kitchen and keep freezers cold. Those freezers are stocked with food donated by hundreds of supporters.

On Saturday, September 22, a flotilla of canoes set off from the Village of Ardoch on Mud Lake to paddle down the Mississippi River to Ottawa. About 100 people gathered in front of a cairn commemorating the efforts of Algonquin Chief Harold Perry's efforts to save the wild rice in Mud Lake from destruction in the 1980s. Algonquin Grand Chief and Grandfather of all Grandfathers William Camanda from Maniwaki Quebec performed some pipe and smudging ceremonies with sweet grass and sage. Two young women, Corrie and Jill, filled two mason jars with clear water from Mud Lake to be presented to the people of Ottawa as a sign of what is threatened by uranium mining. Several Algonquin drummers beat out a travelling song on the big drum. Harold Perry, now a wiry 77-years-old, slid a canoe that he himself had made into the water, leading the way to Ottawa.

We often hear stories from around the world of farmers and indigenous people trying to protect their lands from miners, loggers, and other resource extractors. In Frontenac County I have now experienced that same struggle.

Allan Slater