Why Algonquin First Nations Are Blocking Uranium Exploration in Ontario

A Letter from the the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. August 14, 2007

The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building
Queen’s Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Dear Premier McGuinty:

We are writing to seek your intervention in the impasse that currently exists with respect to uranium exploration in Algonquin territory.

We, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, are indigenous people; our ancestors having hunted, fished, and trapped in the Ottawa and Mattawa watersheds since time immemorial. These lands are our home. As you, your government and the Government of Canada know, we are not a conquered people, nor have we entered into treaties with the Crown. We continue to hold Aboriginal title to these lands, the environmental health of which is critical to the continued pursuit of our traditional cultures and our survival as Aboriginal peoples. We have presented our claim to the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada. The Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation is currently in negotiations with both governments, while the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation awaits further developments in Canadian and Ontario law and policy before joining such negotiations.

While we generally permit activities by non-Algonquins in our territory, and indeed welcome settlers and the development they bring, we cannot accept uranium exploration. We are bound by our traditional laws which demand a high standard of care for the land. Uranium exploration threatens the land and thus our health, well-being and cultural survival. Doreen Davis, Chief, Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation raised concerns about uranium exploration at the Algonquin land claim negotiation table in March 2007 when she first learned of the exploration, but this matter was not taken up at the table by Ontario. Thus, in defence of our laws and territory and Algonquin culture, we took the extraordinary step of asserting our Aboriginal title to lands subject to uranium exploration. We have been working closely and cooperatively with the Ontario Provincial Police to ensure that the camp is peaceful and the protest non-violent and shall continue to do so.

Frontenac Ventures Corporation has brought an action against us in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for an injunction and is seeking damages of $77 million. Initial hearings were held the week of July 30, 2007. We attended in Court to present our views and to hear the case against us.

We appreciate the challenge facing the Court. An adversarial system, such as that used in the Ontario Courts, is contrary to Algonquin traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and does damage to the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. While we respect the Ontario Court system and the rule of law, we cannot inure to the Court in this case and will not be proceeding any further with the Court process as it relates to Frontenac Venture’s motion for an injunction against us. We must insist upon recognition of Algonquin law as it pertains to protection of the earth and upon recognition of our legal title to the subject lands.

We take note of recent developments to improve relations between First Nations and the Province. Commissioner Linden noted in his statement upon releasing his report on the Ipperwash Inquiry, “The single biggest source of frustration, distrust, and ill-feeling among aboriginal people in Ontario is our [the Provincial Government’s] failure to deal in a just and expeditious way with breaches of treaty and other legal obligations to First Nations”. As a particular recommendation, Commissioner Linden suggested, “the Provincial Government should promote respect and understanding for the duty to consult within relevant provincial authorities”, which would include the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

Commissioner Linden was also of the view that Court sanctioned processes such as injunctions where Aboriginal rights are at issue, are not appropriate or desirable and should be used only as a last resort. He was further of the view that Ontario must take the initiative in meeting its obligation to ensure that meaningful, good-faith efforts are made to accommodate the interests of Aboriginal peoples and to respect our rights in the course of managing natural resource development. The Supreme Court of Canada in cases such as Delgamuukw, Haida, and Mikisew, has consistently upheld Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal rights and title and encouraged governments to resolve conflicting claims through negotiation, not through the Courts.

We agree with the comments and recommendations made by Commissioner Linden and the Supreme Court of Canada. Unfortunately, we find ourselves embroiled in a situation Commissioner Linden recommended should be avoided. Ontario has granted mining claims and is considering renewal of a mining lease for uranium exploration in territory subject to a land claim currently under negotiation. Ontario did not consult with us as it is obliged to under Canadian law before authorizing resource development in territory held under Aboriginal title. We now face an injunction brought by a third party. Ontario’s failure to take appropriate and timely action has led to the current unfortunate circumstances and we look to the Government of Ontario to take swift action to resolve this matter outside of the courts.

We wish to resolve this matter peacefully. In this regard, we are seeking the following in order to move forward:

  1. an immediate moratorium on uranium exploration in our territory; and
  2. direct government-to-government negotiations between Ontario and the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation regarding the use, management and conservation of lands and resources within our territory.

We propose to establish a negotiation circle to discuss these matters in an open and cooperative fashion with the intent of resolving disputes in an atmosphere of respect and accommodation. We invite senior officials from the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to participate, as well as representatives of the Federal Government. We propose an initial meeting to take place during the week of August 20, 2007 at the camp we have established in North Frontenac Township.

We are looking forward to your positive response to these suggestions within one week of receipt of this letter. Failing a response, we will take additional peaceful efforts to bring public attention to the failure of your government to observe the rule of law and respond with good faith to directions from the Supreme Court of Canada and the recommendations from Commissioner Linden.

Yours truly,

Chief Doreen Davis
Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation

Co-Chief Paula Sherman
Ardoch Algonquin First Nation

cc: Rick Bartolucci, Minister, Northern Development and Mines; Michael Bryant, Minister, of the Attorney General; David Ramsay, Minister, of Aboriginal Affairs; Jim Prentice, Minister, Indian and Northern Affairs; Bob Potts, Chief Negotiator, Algonquins of Ontario; Legal counsel, FVC; Legal Counsel, O.P.P.

Posted in Canada & Quebec, Indigenous
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