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Algonquin Resist Uranium Mine

September 24, 2007

Algonquin Resist Uranium Mine

Sharbot Lake Algonquins and locals occupy mining site and enforce land claim

by Megan Hughes

Welcome to Frontenac County. Photo: Megan Hughes

Welcome to Frontenac County. Ottawa is an hour's drive to the northeast, Kingston a similar distance to the south. Algonquin Provincial Park lies to the northwest.

This beautiful lake is one of many in the centre of an ongoing uranium mining controversy. The 30,000 acres surrounding this lake in North Frontenac lie atop the edge of the Ottawa Valley’s Canadian Shield. This land is often referred to as the “Land ‘O’ Lakes” tourist region.

With vast areas of Crown land, this region is also home to a healthy deer, wolf and moose population, and other rare or endangered species such as the blue lined skink and flying squirrel. Many residents live in the strip of forest and wetlands between Bon Echo and Sharbot Lake provincial parks. Many who live in the region have conservation in their bones, and local political issues, prior to this year, included deer management and spring bear hunting.

However, residents and tourists alike have recently learned that this area is also rich in uranium. A recent worldwide surge in nuclear power development has driven up the price of uranium, leading many companies to begin exploring the possibility of mining for the radioactive element.

Canada has a long history of uranium mining. Uranium mined by Sahtugot'ine (the Dene First Nation of Sahtu, or Great Bear Lake), who were hired by the government, was used to create the first atomic bombs, detonated on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. C.D. Howe, then Minister of Munitions and Supply in William Lyon Mackenzie King's Liberal Government, issued a press statement saying, "It is a particular pleasure for me to announce that Canadian scientists have played an intimate part, and have been associated in an effective way with this great scientific development." Though an official warning was issued by the federal government in 1931, warning of the risks of handling uranium ore, mine workers were not informed of the risk.

In the 1960s, many of the Sahtugot'ine workers began to die of cancer of the lung, colon, and kidney. Studies of radioactive-based illnesses in the Elliot Lake region of northern Ontario, dating back to 1974, show the same correlation between uranium mining and carcinogenic diseases.

Today, Canada is the largest producer of uranium in the world, accounting for an estimated 27.9 per cent of world's uranium production. About 15 per cent of Canada's electricity comes from the country's 18 nuclear reactors.

Frontenac County is also home to a strong off-reserve Aboriginal population. About two months ago, when it was discovered that the Frontenac Ventures Development Corporation had begun staking Crown land for mining exploration, this community began protesting the potential mine.

Staking of land by hired prospectors has been done since settlers first arrived in Canada. Prospectors are allowed, according to the Ontario mining law of 1870, to enter any land, including that designated as Crown land or which is privately owned, and stake claims on the subsurface rights for future mining exploration. To date there have been 70 claims staked in North Frontenac alone.

The only obstacle to the 1870 mining law is a land claim filed by local Algonquins that dates back to 1772. Despite a “dispute” process set up by the Ministry of Mining and Northern Development, which allows land owners to disagree with the presence of prospecting stakes on their property, there is no process in place to deal with mining exploration on aboriginal land. Landowners in Frontenac County have little recourse when it comes to the mining company’s plans, which include digging trenches, cutting trees, pulling out core samples and releasing uranium into groundwater supplies and the air. As a result, many such residents have supported the cause of the aboriginal land claim.

The protest began on June 29, day of National protest by Aboriginal peoples across Canada. Members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation occupied Frontenac Ventures' base camp on Road 509, just north of the village of Sharbot Lake, Ontario.

If Frontenac Ventures has its way, it will drill for uranium samples which many say will spoil the land, air, and water for the thousands of local residents, cottagers and tourists. The company’s staked land encompasses a large part of North and Central Frontenac, a watershed region that is linked to Ottawa via the Mississippi River.
Once exposed to the open air, uranium dust can travel for thousands of kilometres. Uranium tailings (waste left behind after mining) are radioactive, and remain so for millions of years. The company plans to use one of the local lakes to "bury" the tailings left over from uranium exploration and mining. In this Land ‘O’ Lakes, each lake connects to the next, up to the Mississippi River, which connects to the Ottawa River.
To date, Parliament has made no statements about the mining project. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, demonstrators say, has the power to call an immediate moratorium on uranium mining in Ontario. To the chagrin of many local residents, McGuinty has not spoken to the issue of uranium mining.
The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and the Shabot Obaadijiwan First Nation, both local to Frontenac County, came together to present a united front against uranium mining. They say that the subsurface rights in the area (all land below the surface) belong to them via a land claim which reaches back to 1772. The mining company argues that the subsurface rights are Crown land, for which the law says mining is allowed by anyone who legally stakes it, according to the Ontario mining law of 1870. Frontenac Ventures has staked about 30,000 acres for mining, including both Crown land and privately owned land. The current mining law states that the company can stake subsurface land anywhere, no matter who owns it. The company’s exploration process includes the digging of trenches and holes, the cutting of trees and taking out any obstacles to the mining exploration, including roads owned by the township. So far there have been 70 land parcels of at least one hectare each staked in Frontenac county for the purposes of uranium exploration. Landowners in the area have no workable solution. But there is one exception: an unsettled Aboriginal claim can supercede the mining law.
On June 29th, 2007, a day of National Aboriginal Protests, the Ardoch Algonquins began to occupy the site where Frontenac Ventures had set up its base camp. The base camp site, now the protest site, is north of Highway 7, up Road 509 about 10 kilometres, near the town of Sharbot Lake. The AFFNA and Shabot bands have remained at the site ever since, in protest of mining activity. On September 24, 2007, John Tory, leader of the Conservative party, announced via the media that as part of his new election platform he would like to see a “fine for anyone occupying land that is not owned by them, in the amount of $2500.00 per day.” It is assumed that he was referring in part to the Frontenac uranium protest, but again the issue was not brought to the forefront by the politicians themselves.
Locals who have had their land staked by the corporation, as well as supporters from many other areas, have been a presence outside the base camp gate. Only the aboriginal groups enter the base camp, which they claim is their land to do with as they please. Settlers, though they may own land, cannot make the same claim as the Algonquins to mining sites and subsurface land rights. The settlers and tourists alike are, for the majority, supporting the Algonquins in their protest; the only alternative is to adhere to the present mining laws, which have not been revised since their inception in 1870. Both the Algonquins and the settlers have been attempting to have their voices heard in Parliament; they want a moratorium of this outdated mining law.
The Canadian Shield is in the immediate vicinity of cities lying to the south of Highway 7 (Kington, Belleville, Frontenac), as well as Ottawa. Many protesters and locals are asking: how small does Ottawa think its backyard is?
Locals who support the Algonquins have camped at the site or have dropped by to show support. They have brought food, water and fuel to the protesters. The temporary camp put up by the Algonquins is becoming permanent. Efforts are now underway to ensure that, if necessary, the Algonquin protesters can remain at the site throughout the winter season. Donations of food and money for legal fees are being collected toward this goal.
Anti-uranium signs dot the tree-filled landscape in Frontenac County. The issue is regularly reported in the local paper, The Frontenac News. Some papers in Kingston and Ottawa have also covered the mining controversy. Greenpeace and the Christian Peacemaker Team have joined in the cause. Most recently Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, has spoken out against uranium mining in Ontario, and in support of this protest. A judge from the provincial Superior Court in Kingston has served two injunctions, telling the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to remove protesters and supporters if they deem removal to be necessary. The OPP have been seen in the area regularly, but have yet to make any moves toward removing protesters. The OPP claim that their stance as moderators and peacekeepers has not allowed them to arrest or remove any protesters to date.
The Algonquins have told the court that they will not participate in the injunction orders. Citing Ipperwash and Oka as examples, the Algonquins state that injunctions do not take the place of discussion. They have invited the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to come and speak to them. As of this writing, this visit has not happened. Frontenac Ventures Corp. has filed papers to sue the Algonquins and their supporters for $77 million dollars in "projected losses." They have also offered the government a way out of this issue: The mining company is willing to sell their staked land and business prospects in the area to the government. The starting price? $80 million. The Algonquins are planning to counter-sue both the mining company and the government for misuse of traditional lands.
The aim of the peaceful protest, demonstrators say, is to remain in the mining base camp until Dalton McGuinty calls a moratorium on uranium mining in Ontario. Many local councils have already passed resolutions against uranium mining through their own channels. When Ottawa finally makes its move, those opposed to uranium mining worry that it may be all rain or all shine for Frontenac County, for Ottawa, for Kingston and all of the other towns and cities within uranium dust-blowing distance.

Update: On Saturday, September 22, two canoes were launched from the head of the Mississippi River in Ardoch, Ontario. They will travel to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa in order to demonstrate that the water systems connect and that, for the safety of all residents within air and water distance of the potential uranium mine, an immediate solution must be found.

Megan Hughes is the author of Me and My Bike: An Ontario motojournal

» Canadian Council for Nuclear Responsibility

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Comments

Algonquin Resist Uranium Mine

Although I sympathize with my brothers, the Algonquin, I must point out that this article is rife with misinformation and erros. I have lived and worked in Deline -- and was part of the First Nations controlled study of the impact of uranium mining of our people here on Great Bear Lake (which is in the Northwest Territories, not B.C. as the article erroneously states).

The findings of our multi-million dollar study demonstrated that cancer rates were not higher than the general First Nations populations across the country. Higher than the rest of Canada? Yes, but perhaps because of the effects of poverty, tobacco use and alcohol abuse.

If you are to effectively address land claims issues and uranium mining, which I certianly don't support in a populated area like southern Canada, please get your facts straight. An article like this filled with mistakes weakens the cause.

Port Radium dispute again

Hi,

This discussion has arisen in the Dominion before, so it's best that it pick up from what's already been said.

In 2005, Kim Petersen wrote Canada, Racism, Genocide and the Bomb. Claims (relevant here) made in the article were the subject of an exchange between Petersen and Jennifer Blomqvist of the Deline Uranium Project Team.

Perhaps there is more that folks can add to this discussion, but let's break new ground and take into account past debates on this matter.

Just a brief response

Just a brief response

While poverty, tobacco and alcohol abuse may account for some of the increased cancers in First Nations communities generally, the work conducted on behalf of Deline in relation to the ore-carriers at Port Radium and other points along the water route from Great Bear to Waterways, Alberta was hardly definitive. Under the auspices of the Canada Deline Uranium Table (CDUT), the Fact Finder charged with the task of establishing, amongst other things, an historical dose reconstruction, was refused access to the very historical documents that would have made this possible. As a result, there was little in the way of dependable base-line data to support the conclusion that Dene ore carriers were not affected by their "employment." It seems to me that by essentially exonerating Eldorado and the Federal Government, the CDUT final report (2005), simply cleared the ground for further uranium development (which, as Petr Cizek notes, is already gearing-up on Great Bear Lake). This is all enormously relevant to what is now taking place in Frontenac County. If we lend credence to the conclusion that the Dene were not harmed by their unprotected handling of first radium and then uranium ores (between 1932 and 1960), then not only do we fail to honour these particular casualties of Canada's atomic history, but we show yet again that we have failed to learn anything of the long history of First Nations peoples and land being used as sacrifice zones in the development of Canada's nuclear ambitions. I think we have to do better than this.

Port Radium

This is a great article with lovely photos! Well done! I don't see any "erroneous" mention of Port Radium being in British Columbia.

For more info about Port Radium see the web-site of our documentary film at www.sombake-themoneyplace broadcast last year on Global TV and recently acquired by Robert Redford's Sundance Channel.

It is highly curious that Deline now actively supports the exploration rush for more uranium in and around the Port Radium mine site. The so-called "controlled studies" were conducted by SENES Consultants, who at the time were also Directors of the Canadian Nuclear Association, a lobby group for nuclear power and uranium mining. The $6.7 million federally-financed studies conducted in partnership with Deline concluded that it was impossible to prove that anyone had died from radiation exposure.

SENES reported that the average increased fatal cancer risk for the 35 Dene uranium ore transport workers was only 2.6%. However, they did not mention that 9 of the ore transporter workers had increased fatal cancer risks ranging from 4% to 12%. Dr. Rosalie Bertell is of the view that the industry-standard risk constants underestimate fatal cancers from low-level radiation by a factor of five. This does not include all the other chronic and life-shortening illnesses resulting from gamma radiation.

It is also interesting that in the course of the $6.7 million studies, the full radiation levels at Port Radium were never measured. SENES cut off their radiation measurements at 770 microRems/hr. When the filmmaker visited the site, he measured close to 4,000 microRems/hr within 20 minutes. The mine site is now being remediated by Deline at a cost of yet another $6.8 million to the taxpayer, while much new exploration drilling for uranium is going on in and around the site. According to Peter Diehl at www.wise-uranium.org it should have cost about $500,000 to remediate the site at the average Canadian remediation cost per tonne of tailings. It is my understanding that the original estimate for remediation, taking into account the higher costs of working in the far north, was only $1 million.

Hooray to the Algonquins for refusing to be bought off and for taking such a courageous and principled stance against uranium mining! Just like the Algonquins won the "wild rice war" many decades ago with the leadership of Harold Perry and Bob Lovelace, I'm confident that they will win this battle too. I was honoured to work with the Ardoch Algonquins on the wild rice issue as part of my university research in 1990 and I'm absolutely thrilled to watch their sure and steady progress towards victory against uranium mining in the weeks and months to come.

Petr Cizek, Vancouver, BC

Algonquin resist uranium mining

John Tory forgets law and lessons of history

Last week John Tory, leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario, called for a tough stand on native protests, saying he would make it illegal to direct, participate or financially support Aboriginal protests. In calling for a broader definition of trespass and promising to take a tougher line on native protests, John Tory demonstrated he will pursue the same tactics his predecessor, Mike Harris, followed that led to the tragedy of Ipperwash.

To suggest that providing food and medical supplies to Aboriginal protesters, fed up with a century and a half of abuse at the hands of Canadian governments, is a criminal offence is an outrageous response. How dare John Tory criminalize every Ontarian of good conscience who does not support uranium mining or government treatment of Aboriginal peoples?

John Tory needs to understand the rule of law. Ontario and Canada are in breach of the law as it applies to Aboriginal peoples. The law in Canada stipulates that governments must consult with Aboriginal peoples before development proceeds and must meet the legal obligations agreed to in various treaties and agreements with First Nations. Failing to apply the law equally is what has led to the native protests. Until the Ontario government takes its responsibilities to Aboriginal peoples seriously, protests will likely continue. If John Tory wants to take a “law and order” stance, let him start with getting the provincial government to meet its legal obligations.

To understand what is wrong with John Tory’s position and what should be done instead one merely needs to read the Ipperwash Report. The death of Dudley George, an unarmed non-violent protester shot by an officer of the O.P.P., will have been in vain if Ontarians fail to learn the lesson that we must negotiate the peaceful resolution of Aboriginal peoples’ legitimate complaints.

Peigi Wilson

Thank you Megan for your excellent article

Thank you Megan for your excellent article. I will be featuring it in the Uranium News, which is a newsletter I send out about the Frontenac uranium protest. Great photos!

Thanks for your support,

Lynn Daniluk
Uranium News

Iraq in Ontario

Iraq in Ontario
http://backofthebook.ca/politics/2007/09/europeans-continue-illegal-invasion.html

Megan, I really enjoyed the

Megan, I really enjoyed the article. Lots of great info. The pictures really gave me a good look at what is going on at the mine site. Keep the great information coming.

Trespassing? Really!!

What is unique to the Algonquin situation is that the entire Algonquin territory, by law, is still unceded and soveriegn Algonquin territory. Everyone else is trespassing!!! I think the Algonquins have been very patient. With well established case law insisting on the duty to consult with and accommodate Aboriginal groups affected I have a difficult time trying to understand how this situation has progressed this far. It would seem that the governments are willing to do little more than pay lip service to the established laws of this nation regarding Aboriginal people and their concerns and rights.

It would seem that any consultations that did not have the desired results supporting the interests of the prospecting company were disregarded or demonized. The pretense of actual consultation and accommodation goes much farther than offering to locate and protect potential gravesites or places of spiritual significance as was suggested. I would think that it is only common sense that if you are within the territory of another people accommodation means respecting their wishes, policy, traditions and law. I would like to see the court's reasoning justifying otherwise.

While citizens of mainstream Canada have delegated certain privleges to their federal or provincial governments with regards to private land expropriation for numerous reasons, including mineral extraction, the Algonquins, the genuine title holders, have not.

This is actually good news to the vast majority of grassroots Canadians that know their health and well being and that of their families is directly influenced by the condition of their land and environment. I think the days of big business calling the shots are over. Everyday citizens now realize that the special values held by conscientiuos Aboriginal societies for the natural world are a gift for us all, and most probably one of the greatest blessing of diversity so reflective of Aboriginal contributions (though not acknowledged) to the cultural identity so proudly held by Canadians.

Those that are still genuinely committed to our rich spiritual heritage and obligations concerning our profound relationship to the land will not so easily be induced.

Generating land claim negotiations tables consisting of federally dependent Indian Act bands and their satellite contemporary communities willing to quickly accommadate external agendas in exchange for questionable compensations, minute profit shares and job creation schemes is not likely to succeed within the current Algonquin situation.

Resistance will certainly take many forms.This land claim and the many associated challenges and issues are certain to raise the awareness of all of Canada to the actual facts concerning Canada's dubious Aboriginal relations, and hopefully, as never before, the Canadian majority will become actively engaged in one of the most important social justice movements to affect this country. Hopefully we can all use this opportunity constructively.

Migwetch to our fellow Algonquins! You have our support.

Kichesipirini Algonquins

Is all uranium mining bad?

In principle, are people opposed to all uranium mining? Few people have mentioned that we need it for nuclear power and that the alternative to meeting our energy needs are mostly carbon based / high emmission fuels...which I must admit seems worse for the entire planet than the effects of local mining. Someone did mention that mining in highly populated regions (southern Ontario) is a bad idea...this I can understand. But I don't really think anyone wants their backyards turned into a mind yet everyone uses the energy it generates. Just thought I'd offer a different perspective.

Note: I am deeply concerned with the enviroment and conservation but I am not very informed on this issue. This is just personal thoughts and if I am misinformed or there are problems with my logic feel free to educate me.

Nuclear's CO2 cost

Well, nuclear power, mainly because of uranium mining, is not carbon neutral neither. As stated in "Nuclear's CO2 cost 'will climb'" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7371645.stm), "a significant proportion of greenhouse emissions from nuclear power stem from the fuel supply stage, which includes uranium mining, milling, enrichment and fuel manufacturing." Furthermore, "new uranium deposits are likely to be deeper underground and therefore more difficult to extract than at currently exploited sites" and "the average grade of uranium ore - a measure of its uranium oxide content and a key economic factor in mining - is likely to fall. Getting uranium from lower-quality deposits involves digging up and refining more ore".

It is still unclear what real impact it could have or if it would be better (or "less worse") than carbon based energy. If you are interested in the topic, many documents covering the interactions between nuclear energy and climate change are available at this adress :

http://a4nr.org/library/globalwarmingclimatechange

Have a nice day !

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