MAC/20: Mines and Communities

STANDOFF AT SHARBOT LAKE

Published by MAC on 2007-08-30

STANDOFF AT SHARBOT LAKE

Governments urged to end native blockade

Algonquin leaders fear confrontation 'very, very likely' between Ontario natives and uranium mining company

BILL CURRY, Tornto Globe & Mail, 30 August 2007

SHARBOT LAKE, ONT. -- Algonquin leaders are urging the federal and provincial governments to diffuse an escalating standoff in this rural Eastern Ontario community before violence erupts.

Doreen Davis, Chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin community, said the group of aboriginal and area non-native demonstrators will continue to block a uranium mining prospecting company's access to land she says was never surrendered by the Algonquin people.

This follows an injunction this week from Mr. Justice Gordon Thompson of the Ontario Superior Court authorizing police to arrest and remove the demonstrators.

"We feel that this [injunction] places us at war," Ms. Davis said. "To come in here and force us out of here when we're standing on our Algonquin land puts us in a position of being at war."

Ms. Davis said she has been in contact with Mohawks from the Six Nations communities and they are ready to arrive on site should there be a confrontation, which she predicts is "very, very likely" to occur.

"There's no solution to this except for Ontario and Canada to come here on site and sit in that circle with us and smoke the pipe and pass our feather," she said.

About 40 non-native demonstrators were on the scene yesterday, standing outside the access gate to an area that had been used by a mining prospecting company called Frontenac Ventures. Behind the gate were about two dozen natives, some identifying themselves as Algonquins while others wore Mohawk shirts. The site is 10 minutes off of Highway 7, north of Kingston.

The OPP say the injunction gives police discretion on whether to make arrests. It has promised to inform the demonstrators before any action is taken.

A lawyer representing the mining company said the province must either send in the police or compensate the company for lost revenues, as occurred with a private company involved in the heated land dispute in Caledonia.

Neil Smitheman, of Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau, said his client has the legal permits to use the land and is the real victim.

Given that Algonquins have a continuing land claim covering a massive swath of Central and Eastern Ontario that includes the national capital and much of Algonquin Park, he warned that allowing the blockade to continue would set an unwieldy precedent.

As an extreme example, Mr. Smitheman said, the Algonquins could block people from digging a septic tank in their backyards.

"If we don't want any violence and the OPP don't want to go in [because] we want to avoid violence, somebody write us a cheque," he said. "Why are we supposed to be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of collective guilt and political expediency?"

The company is suing the demonstrators for $77-million, arguing the company will lose its financial backers if its prospecting is halted.

The two sides have been battling in court this summer, but Ms. Davis said they are now boycotting those proceedings. The recent public inquiry report on the Ipperwash standoff concluded that these disputes can be resolved only at the political level, she added.

The non-native demonstrators on site say the company has already damaged the environment and they fear any drilling could contaminate the water supply.

Many residents also found out that they do not hold the subsurface rights to their own property, meaning mining companies can obtain provincial approval to mine in their backyards.

"Any thinking person, if you ask 'Do you want to live next to a uranium mine?' Nobody wants the mine. Nobody wants the exploration," area resident Liisa Rissanen said.

Unlike most tribes in Canada, the Algonquins never traded access to their lands for Indian reserves and services. Two comprehensive land claims are slowly being negotiated with the Algonquins in Ontario and Quebec.

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