News  Algonquins protest uranium exploration

Two years after arrests and protests, community still concerned with environmental impact

A dispute between Frontenac Ventures Corporation (FVC), a business specializing in uranium exploration and development, and a non-status Ardoch Algonquin community over territory near Robertsville, Ontario has ended with the company acquiring full access to the land.

FVC began to stake out the territory in 2007, despite the fact that the Algonquin community had an ongoing land-claim involving the area. The dispute continued until 2008, and came to a head with a series of protests, jailings, and prosecutions.

Almost two years later, honorary Algonquin chief Harold Perry said the community has exhausted itself.

“[We have] reached a point where we’ve done all we can do,” Perry said.

At the height of local protests, the Ardoch community attempted to blockade a site near Sharbot Lake, Ontario, where FVC began testing for uranium deposits. The Shabot Obaadjiwan also lent their support to the blockade and eventually participated in their own mediations with the Ontario government.

But the legal dispute ultimately ended in favour of FVC. After failed government negotiations, Ardoch Algonquin co-chiefs Rob Lovelace and Paula Sherman were fined $15,000 and $25,000, respectively, for their participation in the protests and contempt of a court injunction granting FVC access to the land. Both were sentenced to six months jail time, though Sherman eventually conceded to court injunctions and her sentence was withdrawn.

Although the nearby Shabot Obaadjiwan collaborated with the Ardoch Algonquin to oppose the uranium company’s takeover, Perry said he was disappointed with the lack of support from the First Nations community at large. “We’re the only ones who came out against the uranium. They [other First Nations tribes] signed documents saying that we were the ones against it,” he said.

According to FVC president and CEO George White, his claim received adequate permission for uranium exploration in Ontario and has legal claim to the land. White added that FVC creates 600 to 700 “primarily local jobs” in their exploration and development of low-grade uranium.

Canada is currently the world’s largest uranium exporter, and White pointed to its positive use in what he believes is the country’s nuclear future. “Canada and the U.S. trail far behind in nuclear power. France gets over 70 per cent of its power from nuclear energy,” he said.

Perry has cited public health and pollution to nearby lakes and streams as his major concern for development of the lands into mining or mining exploration sites. However, Rob Ferguson, a represenatative of Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, and Forestry said the site of contention was not used for mining.

“There was no mining. This was an exploration site, consisting of mainly mapping and geological samples…. If the company had found minable deposits, substantial requirements would have kicked in [for mining],” Ferguson said.

When asked if he thought the First Nations involved in the FVC protest were aware of governmental procedures, Ferguson answered, “That’s complicated.”

Perry still laments the dispute that was eventually settled in favour of FVC exploration rights. “People don’t realize the impact that this holds on the future,” he said. “But at least we can say we tried.”