PERTH, ON: "Land is life"--Ardoch Algonquin meet with legislators

27 February 2008
PERTH, ON: "Land is life"--Ardoch Algonquin meet with legislators

by Murray Lumley

At a meeting of eleven people – a mixture of Ardoch Algonquin community and 'settler' neighbour allies, with MP (Member of Parliament) Scott Reid and MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) Randy Hillier, in Perth, Ontario, I received some insights into why Aboriginal peoples go to great lengths to protect their land.

During one exchange with the legislators, Co-Chief Dr. Paula Sherman pointed out that under international law, Aboriginal peoples around the world define who they are by their connection to the land. In the case discussed at this meeting, an open pit uranium mine—imposed by a seriously flawed Ontario Mining Act, which allows for 'prospecting without consent'—would destroy their land. Without their land they would cease to exist–they would be extinguished as a people, even though they have lived on this land for centuries, if not millennia.

Chief Sherman also said, "Aboriginal people are trying to 'decolonize' themselves" (to rehabilitate from the effects of hundreds of years of colonization). "One way that has been successful," she continued, "is to have aboriginal people reconnect with the land. How will this be possible if businesses supported by governments take the land and destroy it?"

Art Cota, father of Ardoch Algonquin Co-Chief Randy Cota, added, "The one who always promoted ‘peaceful’ ways of dealing with the defence of our land, Bob Lovelace, has been removed from our community. I worry about the consequences of that."

Paula Sherman is a professor of Aboriginal Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario and one of the leaders sentenced for contempt of court. The court accused her of violating an injunction brought by Frontenac Ventures, a uranium mining exploration company, to prevent anyone from being on 30,000 acres of 'crown' land in Eastern Ontario that the mining company has 'staked.' This land is part of a long-standing Algonquin land claim with the Canadian government. Ardoch Algonquin leader and spokesperson, Robert Lovelace received from the same court a six-month sentence and a fine of $25 thousand, plus $2000/day as long as he refuses to ‘purge’ his contempt charge. The court fined community, Ardoch Algonquin $10,000. To avoid the same sentence and fine, so she could look after her children, Chief Sherman had to agree to stay off the land in question and not counsel anyone else to defend the land by going onto it.

Judge Douglas Cunningham struck from the record the Algonquins' defence: that the Ontario government has not lived up to its responsibilities to 'consult, accommodate and ask for consent' from the Ardoch Algonquins. The judge has further stipulated that they may not use this defence again, thus silencing the Ardoch Algonquins with another colonial decision.

In a letter supporting Lovelace, Hillier and Reid wrote, "The Ontario government has failed in its obligation to update the Mining Act to reflect legitimate property rights concerns, aboriginal concerns and environmental concerns. Judge Cunningham's decision compounds these problems and serves to bring the administration of justice into disrepute."