Jeff Green | Jul 19, 2007
Feature Article - July 19, 2007
Back toHomeFeature Article - July 19, 2007
Rallying ends and lawyering begins in uranium exploration saga
by Jeff Green
The second, and for the foreseeable future, final rally and march along Highway 7 protesting plans by Frontenac Ventures Corporation to explore for uranium in parts of North and Central Frontenac took place last Friday, July 13.
A mixed crowd of Algonquin, other First Nation, and non-aboriginal people joined together in much the same manner as they had 5 days earlier, this time marching down Road 38 to end the rally at the Sharbot Lake High School. The Ontario Provincial Police closed down Highway 7 between Mountain Grove and Sharbot Lake for a time, and then closed Highway 38 from Parham to Sharbot Lake.
The rally was colourful and peaceful, and was attended by William Commanda of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (near Maniwaki, Quebec), the most revered of Algonquin elders and the keeper of three wampum belts of historic importance. Although he underwent surgery earlier this week, Commanda insisted on attending the rally. He is an outspoken opponent of uranium mining because of its impacts in his home region of Maniwaki, and is known internationally as an advocate for understanding between cultures. Although he is now in his mid-nineties, he still hosts the annual Spirit of All Nations Gathering.
While the rally went off without a hitch, there have been complaints from local business owners and others that disruptions to traffic flows on the highways are a detriment to their businesses during the crucial summer tourist season.
Perhaps in recognition of these concerns, Ardoch Algonquin representative Bob Lovelace said later that no more rallies are planned on Highway 7, and the newly named group of local anti-uranium activists that has been involved in the rallies as well, Concerned Citizens Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU), said that future rallies would be held “at different locations throughout our community, not the corner of Hwy #509 and #7.”
Enter the lawyers
What can only be described as an extraordinary meeting was hastily arranged at the Snow Road hall. It was originally going to be a simple meeting between lawyers representing the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nations and Frontenac Ventures Corporation, but quickly became a public event.
During the two-hour meeting, the Snow Road hall resembled a courtroom at certain points, a lecture hall on Algonquin history at others, and a battleground between pro and anti-uranium mining forces at other times.
And it was topped off with a parable about turtle soup.
Neil Smitheman, the lawyer for Frontenac Ventures Corporation, described Frontenac Ventures’ intentions for the meeting.
“My client wants to initiate a consultation process,” Smitheman said, as Frontenac Ventures President George White prepared to make a power presentation on the company’s plans for this year.
He was interrupted by Chris Reid, the lawyer for the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwann First Nations, who argued that all of the Frontenac Ventures mining claims are located on the traditional lands of his clients and they have yet to be consulted as to their intentions regarding mineral exploration. “Let me be clear. My clients have not agreed with the Crown that their land will be open to mineral exploration. We need to begin consultation with the Crown first. Consultation could lead to exploration, but we are not prepared to make any accommodation in that regard at this time. The Crown cannot delegate the responsibility to consult to another party. You have purported mineral claims which we do not recognise.”
Reid then pointed out that he has made repeated attempts to communicate with the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, to initiate a process, but “they have not even acknowledged my emails.”
The province was represented at the meeting, after a fashion, by Tony Scarr and Pam Sangster from the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development.
When they were asked if they were willing to enter into a consultation process on behalf of the province, Tony Scarr responded by saying they were attending the meeting at the invitation of Frontenac Ventures Corporation to help explain the mining act as it pertains to their exploration plans, not in any legal position as a representative of the government of Ontario. He did say that the ministry is available to meet with the Algonquins, and that he would bring information back to the ministry.
Neil Smitheman said that “time is something that Frontenac Ventures simply cannot afford,” and added that if the company is prevented from pursuing their exploration program they will “take legal action against someone.”
Chris Reid then asked Neil Smitheman “At any time when the mining claims were being registered, did the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development inform your client that the claims are located on Algonquin territory?”
“They did not,” Smitheman responded.
After the two lawyers seemed to agree that the meeting constituted a dialogue rather than a consultation, Frontenac Ventures Corporation proceeded to outline their exploration plans for this summer. They plan to drill up to 200 test holes this summer in locations where test holes have been drilled in the past. Greg Luster from the company explained that the exploration process as planned by the company does not pose an environmental threat. The company also offered $10,000 to the Algonquins at this time, plus 2% of the money they spend on the project this summer, and talked of the economic benefits that would accrue if a mine happened to come into being.
A grilling session took place, with members of the public and Algonquin representatives expressing their disdain for anything related to uranium production.
“You talk about economic benefits,” said Mireille Lapointe from Westport, “but people don’t move near uranium mines, people move away from uranium mines.”
Chief Doreen Davis of the Sahbot Obaadjiwaan described the exploration as “a roll of the dice that I cannot take for my people.”
Finally, Bob Lovelace talked of the historic relation between Algonquin peoples and the land. “The land is our language,” he said, “we cannot survive if it is taken from us.” Further he described the Algonquins as the “single most endangered species in he Ottawa Valley.”
“Do you think there is a compromise possible here?” Neil Smitheman asked of Lovelace.
“No one supports this operation right now,” Lovelace responded. He then ended his presentation by telling an Algonquin story about two canoeists and a turtle. One man wants to make soup from the turtle but the other says, “I’ve never seen a turtle like that, I think we should leave it alone”. The first man insists on making soup from the turtle and he ends up developing an insatiable thirst, and is eventually drawn into the river, where he perishes. “I think we should leave that turtle alone,” Lovelace concluded.
As the meeting ended, Frontenac Ventures agreed not to commence drilling without notifying the Algonquins, but the Algonquins did not agree to Frontenac Ventures’ request that they abandon their camp at the Robertsville mine. Tony Scarr agreed to bring an Algonquin request that a “protocol for consultation” be developed between the Algonquins and the province to his superiors at the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development.