| Sep 06, 2007

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Feature Article - September 6, 2007 Anti-uranium exploration activities entering a new phase

by Jeff Green

It has been more than interesting to watch the politics that have developed around uranium exploration in North and Central Frontenac over the past year.

It all started for us at the Frontenac News early in the summer of last year, when we received an email about a large number of mining stakes in Palmerston and Oso (the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines still uses pre-amalgamation boundaries).

It turned out that most of the claims were being staked for Frontenac Ventures Corporation, and just as had been the case in the 1980s and earlier, the mineral of interest was uranium.

A small item in the Frontenac News in mid-July (’06) brought little or no public response.

At the time the Ardoch Algonquins were heavily involved in cutting and clearing land for heir controversial Pow Wow grounds on Pine Lake. When informed about the staking, Ardoch co-chief Randy Cota just said, “It’ll never happen. We won’t let it. Those are Algonquin lands”


In the fall of last year, Gloria and Frank Morrison found out that their property had been staked, and they began to research and publicize their concerns about the issue of surface and subsurface mineral rights.

Three concurrent issues were coming together: uranium exploration, surface/subsurface rights, and Algonquin territorial claims.

Frank and Gloria Morrison were not the first people in recent years to find their property has been staked against their wishes, but they showed tremendous zeal in fighting their predicament, bringing it to the attention of he national media

Gloria was a lead interview on As It Happens in February this year, leading the program to a week-long exposition on mining rights on private lands. Frank was the subject of a feature article in the Ottawa Citizen and a five-minute news report on CBC Ottawa television later on.

On Good Friday, a group of property owners from the Snow Road area called a public meeting to discuss mineral staking in the area, and to begin talking about the impacts of uranium exploration, and uranium mining on the surrounding region.

People at that meeting included two members of the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation, several township mayors and councillors from the surrounding region, PC provincial candidate Randy Hillier, and Mark Burnham, the chair of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.

Meanwhile, Frontenac Ventures Corporation had begun their program of exploration for 2007. A series of data-gathering flights over the 30,000 acres of claims the company has secured took place in April and May. Work also progressed, using Gemmil’s Construction from Snow Road, on widening an access road from the Robertsville mine and Crotch Lake, and hiring, including local hiring, was taking place.

The company was looking to secure a drill, and by early June plans to commence a $2 million, two-year core drilling program were made. Their intention, in the short term, was to duplicate core-drilling results from the 1970s, which would enable them to take their claim public by listing it on the Toronto Stock Exhange this October.

Meanwhile, the Ardoch Algonquins had been discussing the situation at their monthly meetings, and began talking with the members of an anti-uranium group that was being formed at the time. They were also forging an alliance with the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation over a joint response. This alliance represents a big change in the relationship between the leadership of the two communities, which have been dominated for years by a profound disagreement over the conduct of land claims negotiations.

In early June, the Ardoch Algonquins sent a letter to Frontenac Ventures Corporation, telling the company to leave their leased headquarters at the Robertsville mine by June 28. In effect, the letter constituted an assertion of sovereignty over the mine, which is a privately held parcel of land, and over the 30,000 acres for which Frontenac Ventures possess mineral rights.

Frontenac Ventures Corporation, in consultation with the OPP, decided to vacate the premises before the 28th.

At the time, company President George White was under the impression that he was merely keeping his people away from the site during the Aboriginal days of protest, and they would be returning after the July 1st long weekend.

But the Ardoch Algonquins had no intention of leaving, and when they arrived at the Robertsville Mine on June 28, they were joined by Chief Doreen Davis and other members of the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation, and non-aboriginal anti-uranium activists who were prepared to take a supporting role for an occupation that will be ten weeks old this Thursday.

Their intention was clear; they were committed to stopping uranium exploration on what they consider their traditional lands.

Phase 2 Frontenac Ventures seeks relief from the courts

Soon after the beginning of the Algonquin occupation of the Robertsville mine two things became clear: the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwaan Algonquins were united, and the OPP was not interested in stopping the occupation.

The OPP attitude surprised Frontenac Ventures Corporation and Peter Jorgensen, the owner of the mine, who found he had no access to his own property.

The Algonquins were equally surprised. On Tuesday morning, July 3, the first business day after the beginning of the occupation, all of the children that had been on site during the weekend were gone. A dozen warriors, some of them from other First Nations, decked out in bandanas and camouflage, took up a line at the edge of Highway 509, as a show of force against any attempts by the police to infiltrate.

The OPP, who at that time and since have maintained a visible presence, with four vehicles located along Road 509, never approached.

Two weeks later, Frontenac Ventures met with members of the two First Nations and the non-aboriginal anti-uranium activists to begin consultations.

Lawyers for the Algonquins and the company wrangled over what “meaningful consultation” is. A week later, Frontenac Ventures levied a $77 million lawsuit against the two communities, and persons un-named. The suit now includes the Province of Ontario.

When the suit was brought to court a few days later, on July 30, a three-day hearing took place on a motion to adjourn. On August 15, Judge Thomson ordered all parties off the land until a formal hearing on a company motion for an interim injunction could be set up.

The Algonquins did not leave, and the OPP did not act to make them leave.

A further meeting with Judge Thomson took place on August 23. The Algonquins had already said they would no longer participate in the injunction proceedings, calling the situation a political matter that should be addressed by the provincial government and not the courts. The OPP lawyer was non-committal when Thomson asked why the force had not acted. He implied that the order did not clearly stipulate what they must do.

On August 27, Judge Thomson released a new order, this time ordering all protestors off the land, granting “unfettered access” to the company, and authorizing the police to act.

On the morning of August 31, Provincial Ministers Rick Bartollucci (Mines and Niorthern Development) and David Ramsay (Natural Resources and Aboriginal Affairs) finally responded to a request for a meeting that had been sent to them by the Algonquins on June 14. The letter offered to continue consultation between the communities and Mines and Northern Development, saying meetings could begin as soon as September 10. On the afternoon of Friday, August 31, Judge Thomson’s order was formally served.

What Now?

Everyone is waiting for the OPP to decide on their next course of action. They could arrest everyone at the site in the next few days, risking confrontation and the arrival of outside activists, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal

All of the people on site thus far have made a commitment to non-violence, but the Algonquin leaders have said they cannot control people that may come to the scene later on.

The OPP may also ask all of the protesters to leave, but stop short of arresting anyone, perhaps incurring the wrath of the courts.

They could also seize on the decision of the provincial government to meet with the Algonquins for the first time, and say they don’t want to jeopardise that process by acting.

This would undoubtedly lead Frontenac Ventures Corporation to ask that the OPP be charged with contempt of court for not enforcing a judge’s order.

Then again, the company may have done so already.

The protesters at the Robertsville mine have now forged a firm three-way alliance. They are all anti-uranium activists, aboriginal and settler alike. They have different pasts, but they share a common cause and a may share a common fate.

There is another group of people who have had no voice throughout this process: those in the community who support the mining exploration, either for reasons of their own interest or because they see at as something that could bring benefits and would not likely bring environmental harm. They have remained quiet throughout the past two months, fearing perhaps they would be labelled anti-environmental or anti-aboriginal. The tension felt by some of these people has surfaced a few times over the summer and in recent days.

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