On October 12, the Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations left the Robertsville Mine site, which they had occupied since June 28, after agreeing to enter a mediation process involving their representatives, the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the uranium exploration company Frontenac Ventures (FV). CPTers, who had accompanied the blockade since September 3, also returned home that day.
The mediation process is supposed to address: 1) whether Frontenac’s staked claims and mining lease are legally valid; 2) the possibility of withdrawing traditional Algonquin land from staking and a moratorium on mineral exploration and mining; 3) addressing on-the-ground concerns about the impacts of uranium drilling.
According to the agreement, the Algonquins will allow FV to continue some exploratory work during the mediation process, but it cannot do any drilling. The court has appointed an independent monitor to verify FV’s compliance and has allowed a period of twelve weeks for the mediation. As of this writing, the mediation has yet to begin.
Frontenac Ventures obtained a license under the Ontario Mining Act to carry out exploratory drilling on sixty square kilometers of unceded Algonquin land. The Algonquins have never surrendered title to lands they have inhabited from time immemorial. The Royal Proclamation Act of 1763 and the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 enshrine Aboriginal title in Canadian law.
Neither FV nor the Ontario government consulted with the Algonquin people before FV began its uranium exploration program. Canadian court decisions dating back seventeen years have ruled governments must consult indigenous peoples and accommodate their concerns before undertaking resource exploitation projects on their territories. This duty to consult exists even when title to the land is in dispute. Canadian courts have also ruled that where the potential harm to indigenous rights is serious, governments should proceed only with the consent of the affected peoples.
An open-pit uranium mine would release toxic radon gas and polonium and leave behind millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings that will permanently pollute groundwater.
The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation asserts that, “Uranium mining will lead directly to our social, spiritual, and cultural demise, as our collective identity – requires a continual relationship with the land . . .We do not have the option that FV has to pack up and leave once their destruction of our lands is complete.”
CPT maintains that this land-use dispute is rooted in the Canadian government’s historic neglect of legitimate Algonquin land and national sovereignty claims, and the unconstitutionality of the Ontario Mining Act, which makes no provision for consulting First Nations communities. A mediation process that addresses the root causes of this conflict could be a positive step towards resolving a long-standing injustice.
While accompanying the Ardoch First Nation, CPTers conducted two nonviolence trainings, attended court proceedings, organized a letter-writing campaign to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino, and maintained a presence at the blockade site. CPT continues to follow developments related to the dispute closely through regular communication and delegation visits to the area including one in mid-November.