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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.

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