Jeff Green | Oct 04, 2007
Feature Article - October 4, 2007 Feature Article - October 4, 2007
A Week in the Life of the Robertsville Mine Occupationby Jeff GreenMP Scott Ried holds up a jar of water, presented to him by the Ardoch Algonquins. Reid will read the Algonquin moratorium declaration in the House of Commons.Photo: Kerrison Melcher
The anti-uranium exploration protest has progressed in diverse political and legal directions over the past week.
Last Thursday night, September 27, a declaration was signed by Harold Perry of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Grandfather William Commanda of the Kitiban Zibi on Victoria Island (in the Ottawa River near Parliament Hill). It was a declaration announcing a moratorium on uranium exploration in the Ottawa Valley on behalf of the Algonquin Nation. Harold had been joined by a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal canoeists in a six-day paddle along the Mississippi and Ottawa rivers from Harold’s home in Ardoch, carrying water from the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Meanwhile, in Kingston, Associate Chief Justice Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court was faxing out an “interlocutory order” in response to a court motion by Frontenac Ventures Corporation, a uranium exploration company that has been unable to access its 30,000 acre mining claim for the past 90 days because of a blockade by members of the Shabot Obaadjiwaan and Ardoch Algonquin (AAFN) communities.
The order is short and to the point: “Any representative of the AAFN, Shabot or anyone supporting their position or associated with them in any way shall forthwith leave the subject property … Frontenac Ventures Corporation shall have immediate, unfettered, and unrestricted access to the subject property …”The ruling accepts a proposed 40-week exploration and drilling schedule as provided by the company. The existing contempt of court proceedings against eight named individuals, including the Shabot Obaadjiwaan and Ardoch leadership, were adjourned by the order in the “hope that AAFN and Shabot will not only obey this order but will rejoin the table to permit ongoing consultations in a meaningful way. As the Supreme Court has consistently noted, disputes such as this one are better resolved through negotiation, a view adopted by Chief Paula Sherman and Chief Doreen Davis in their letter to the Premier dated August 14, 2007.”
The interlocutory order has provoked no response from either First Nation.
On Friday morning, September 28, a number of canoes were portaged from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill for a 10:00 AM rally. About 120 people from Frontenac and Lanark County congregated on the lawn in front of the Peace Tower to hear greetings from several speakers, including Lorraine Rickmans, the Green Party of Ontario’s Aboriginal Affairs critic, who happens to come from the Serpent River Reserve. The reserve is downstream from Elliott Lake and has faced devastation as the result of sulphuric acid and radiation poisoning coming from the Elliot Lake uranium mine, which opened in the 1950s and closed in the 1990s. Paul Dewar, NDP MP from the riding of Ottawa Centre, also spoke. The event culminated when Scott Reid, the MP from Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington and the deputy leader of the government in the House of Commons, received the declaration of moratorium from Ardoch Chief Randy Cota, and a jar of clean water from Gillian Cota.
“The first duty of an MP is to receive petitions from their constituents, and present these concerns to Parliament,” said Reid. “It will be my responsibility--and an honour--to present the concerns of the Algonquins to the House of Commons. In the event that there are any procedural questions as to whether this document is in the accepted format for petitions to the House of Commons, I will be seeking the unanimous consent of the House to bring it forward.”
Others who have expressed support for the moratorium in recent days include Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of British Columbia Chiefs.
After the rally, a delegation brought the declaration of a moratorium to the constituency office of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ottawa South.
Meeting in Sharbot Lake
On Saturday, September 29, a meeting was held at Katie’s Lounge in the Sharbot Lake County Inn. In attendance were the leadership of the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation and their lawyer Steve Reynolds, the leadership of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and their lawyer Chris Reid, Rob Ferguson from the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), Bob Crane, the Ontario negotiator to the Algonquin Land Claim, and Robin Aitkin, the Canadian negotiator to the Algonquin Land Claim. Also in attendance as observers were a group of anti-uranium activists who have been involved in the occupation at the Robertsville mine and other activities, including two members of the Christian Peacemakers.
After a 45-minute delay as Rob Ferguson determined if he could accept the presence of a documentary film crew, the meeting commenced.
Several Algonquin chiefs peppered Rob Ferguson to find out if the MNDM is wiling to conduct consultations on the question of whether mining activity will be permitted at all in the territory, or if, in the words of Ardoch co-chief Paula Sherman “you are only here to talk about whether holes can be drilled on one spot or another spot, because if that’s the case, this will be a short meeting.”
Then, Ardoch’s lawyer Chris Reid made a proposal that represented a change in the community’s long-held position as to how the occupation can end.
“We haven’t had a chance to confirm this with the Shabot Obaadjiwaan, but we might be willing to vacate the site if there is a freeze on any activity for at least a year, during which time a five-member mediation team could meet. It would include a representative from Ardoch, the Shabot Obaadjiwaan, Ontario, Canada, and a mediator.”
“We haven’t heard this offer, but I was going to propose mediation as well,” said Steve Reynolds from the Shabot Obaadjiwaan.
The two lawyers agreed to formalize a proposal and send it to the three government officials, who said they weren’t in a position to accept any terms but they would bring the proposal to the political level.
Chief Paula Sherman asked Rob Ferguson if there was any possibility that, at the end of mediation, the province would agree to “saying no to exploration”.
Ferguson reiterated that he could not speak for the ministry, “but you don’t know where a process will end until you enter into it,” he said.
Two days later a 6-point proposal for mediation was sent to Premier Dalton McGuinty by Chief Davis (Shabot) and Chief Sherman (Ardoch). It resembles the proposal outlined by Chris Reid on Saturday. Among the points is one that says, “Mineral exploration and mining will be suspended until the mediation is either concluded or fails.” It calls for a suspension of the occupation and no access to the site for Frontenac Ventures, and the issue to be discussed will include “the staking of mining claims and the issuance of mining leases in the subject area” and the resolution of all litigation between Frontenac Ventures and the First Nations.
Meanwhile, Frontenac Ventures, who were not party to the consultation, have continued to aggressively pursue a legal remedy to the predicament. “They can win the publicity war,” company President George White told the News on Saturday, referring to the rally on Parliament Hill, which made the television news in parts of the country, “but they are not going to win the legal war.”
On Monday, October 1, Frontenac Ventures chartered a helicopter to fly over site and confirm that the occupiers were still on site at the Robertsville mine in contravention of Judge Cunningham’s order. Judge Cunningham will hear submissions from the company today (Thursday, October 4).
Adding a further wrinkle to this situation, Donna Dillman from Lanark Highlands will be commencing a hunger strike in Monday, October 8. Dillman has been camped outside the gate at the blockaded site. She plans to stop eating until a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining is signed.