the Ardoch & Sharbot Blockade
Monday, October 15, 20071 Comment
A Mohawk unity flag, flying at the site.
On October 10th I was lucky to visit the Ardoch Algonquin and Sharbot Obaadjiwan blockade, situated on an old mine site in North Frontenac just off the highway 509. The colorful site full of tents, flags, and signs blocks a gateway, which is a part of a 30,000-acre piece of land that has been staked, claimed and explored for a potential uranium mine. The situation that brought about the blockade is unique. I've written a short summary of the history which is critical to understanding the current situation.
On June 28th, 2007, two aboriginal nations, Ardoch Algonquin First Nation & Sharbot Obaadjiwan First Nation formed an alliance to prohibit access and ensure that no drilling for uranium samples took place on their traditional land. Our constitution includes the royal Proclamation of 1763 which recognizes Algonquin original title and rights to the land encompassing the areas around the Ottawa River watershed, because it was never ceded or sold to the Canadian government. As the traditional protectors of the land, they have decided that uranium should be left underground where it is not harmful to communities, watersheds, and the environment for generations to come. This quote, taken from a larger statement (available under the First Nations section), explains their reasoning; "Uranium mining destroys land, pollutes the air and water and causes sickness that can last longer than human existence. We have witnessed what has occurred in other places. We have seen how other Native people and their neighbors have been adversely affected... We cannot stand by and let this happen here...We will take legal action to assert our Aboriginal rights and where necessary we will take direct action to protect our land and people." Since then, there has been a constant on site presence.
The Alliance receives support from local citizens, Mining Watch, and the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU.) In fact, the two nations were made aware of the staking of their territories when a local woman, Gloria Morrison, had 60 of her 100 acres of privately owned land staked by Frontenac Ventures Corporation (FVC) under the mining act. She asked them for help because the land she occupies is on traditional Algonquin territory. This title holds more power against a corporate invasion than settler land rights.
The Algonquins and their non-native supporters have done a lot of work over the past few months, including multiple protest marches, educational speaking tours, letter writing campaigns, hosting benefit concerts, and acquiring the services of an expert in Aboriginal Rights and law; lawyer Chris Reid. From September 22 to 28th a special protest took place where canoes descended from the Algonquin territories to Parliament hill with 2 maiden Water-Carriers and a proclamation demanding the Canadian government put a moratorium on uranium mining. On October 8th Donna Dillman, a 53 year old grandmother, began a hungry strike with the same demands.
So far, the combination of efforts has been successful in keep FVC off the site, despite a $77 million dollar law suit from the company targeting 4 chiefs and each band collectively. However, an interim injunction was served during August that required First Nations to vacate the site along with everything they'd brought with them. The injunction states that the OPP have the discretion to enforce it, and they have not done so yet. No one so far has been arrested and people at the site state proudly that this blockade is one of the most peaceful ever.
On October 10th, I was informed that the blockade would be taken down within the next few days due, in part to the police being court ordered to remove protesters from the site. It will remain unoccupied for the next 12 weeks. During this time FVC will be allowed to carry out non-invasive exploration on the site, meaning no drilling to confirm uranium deposits. Sharbot and Ardoch nations have entered into talks with the Ontario and federal government. The purpose of these talks being to demand a moratorium on uranium mining and to question why FVC was given access to the land without consultation from the title holders. Protesters were confident that if the talks did not result in a moratorium the blockade would be reinstated during the winter.
Chief Doreen Davis spoke about the strategy the alliance has been employing to obtain a moratorium; "There are four fingers" she explained. "the first is the blockade, it starts the process and raises awareness. I said i would not go to court, I wanted Ontario to come here, court is not a place to deal with issues of land. Number two is education. We need people to know about the dangers of uranium mining. Nuclear power is framed as 'green' but there are no happy endings or beginnings to the process of mining. The third tactic is media and communications. We haven't received as much press as we would like because this is a peaceful occupations. If [a story] doesn't have blood the papers won't print it. The fourth is to keep pounding the government to get a moratorium".
Chief Doreen seemed confident that if Ontario ends uranium mining the other provinces will fall in line. She pointed to Nova Scotia, which banned uranium mining in 1982 based on health concerns surrounding nuclear energy. It was also banned from 1980-87 in British Columbia. However, since nuclear power is being pushed as 'clean' energy, mining is still an heated issue for governments and activists.
On site there was no question as to how destructive uranium mining could be to the surrounding areas and communities. Mike Nickerson, Author of Life, Money & Illusion: Living on Earth like we want to Stay, was on site and offered insight into the process of mining. He clearly stated that ANY level of radiation causes problems. Even the dust created from drilling will release rayon gases to blow in the wind. When the rocks are ground to sand during the extraction of uranium, one of the components is iron sulfate, which creates sulfuric acid upon contact with water, making water too acidic for consumption or to sustain an ecosystem. He also mentioned tailings, which are the low grade radioactive by-product of mining, and how a new environmental assessment says tailing must be stored & monitored forever.
"Nuclear power is a desperate effort to for go taking responsibility [for our resources and waste]. It might enable us to put off maturity as a species for 30-40 years, but that will just leave the next generation with more serious problems in the form of nuclear hot spots." Said Mr. Nickerson.
Donna Dillman agrees. On the seventh day of her hunger strike in her daily blog she says: "Uranium exploration, extraction and mining is strictly about economic gain/growth. However, after some very short term benefit to a very few people, the community will be left .. devastated." Donna, is using her hunger strike as a tool to keep pressure on the government despite the removal of the blockade. "As a grandmother with three grandchildren, I feel very strongly that I have to step up and doing something for them" she says. Donna intends to remain on the site, or occupy space on Parliament hill for the duration of her hunger strike.
On site people seemed to have high energy; they were determined and positive about the outcome. Although the blockade is finishing soon the groups are requesting support in other areas. They are accepting donations to legal funds or for education initiatives. They also encourage everyone to talk to their MPs, and everyone they know, about securing a moratorium.
This Cree Proverb was hung on the blockade gate. It embodies the spirit and urgency of the blockade:
when the last tree is cut down
when the last animal is hunted
when the last fish is caught
when the last river is poisoned
then we will realize we cannot eat money