Imprisoned Algonquin activist writes to Citizens' Inquiry on Uranium Mining

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Robert Lovelace:I have no doubt that more people will have to go to prison before Ontario becomes nuclear free and we embrace a society that undertakes real sustainability”

Robert submitted this handwritten presentation to the Inquiry via surface mail. Acting Ardoch Algonquin First Nation Co-Chief, Mireille LaPointe, read the presentation at the Ottawa Inquiry on Robert’s behalf.

My name is Robert Lovelace. I am a member of the Ardoch Algonquin n First Nation. Our traditional homeland is within the Ottawa River Valley among the Madawoska, Mississippi and Rideau watersheds. Our community also uses the Nation River watershed. The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation is with the greater Algonquin Nation of the Anishnabeg People.

I am writing to you from the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario on the 50th day of incarceration. I have been imprisoned because I refused to submit to Judge Douglas Cunningham’s order for my community to leave their peaceful protest and permit Frontenac Ventures Corporation access to our traditional homelands to carry out exploration activities, including deep core drilling for uranium. I have been sentenced to 6 months and fined $25,000. In addition, Co-Chief Paula Sherman was fined $15, 000 dollars and the community $10,000 and the community’s defence and counter claims to a $77 million dollar lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Cunningham leaving the First Nation completely vulnerable and without representation.

In my defence, and as explanation for actions taken by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, I gave evidence about the Algonquin understanding of land and the responsibility for protecting the land with Algonquin Law. This knowledge comes to us through oral traditions: through stories, songs, principle saying and ceremony. It is shared collectively. No one person holds all the knowledge with requires people to come together and contribute what they know for the greater good. We also turn to our elders who through their long experience of living and cumulative use and understanding of knowledge can instruct with intelligence and wisdom. In this way Algonquin law continues to be profound and dynamic.

The Algonquin understanding of land begins with creation and in the context of its expressions in Anishabemowin (the Algonquin language). For Algonquins creation does not centre on human beings or on a determined plan of an all powerful god. The face of creation is shaped by vision, which gives spirit form. Mater, in its diversity and sameness dances in a whirl of changing shapes, arranged by harmony, balance and compliment. In this animate matrix all being are alive. The air, water, stone and the fires of the earth and sun are living beings. Like all the creatures who fly, walk or swim, what exist within a symbiotic reference with all life, either real imagined or symbolic is linked to spirits of a living world. If the creator directs any attention towards human being it is with benign indifference as the great spirit observes the artifice of life’s vision with equal interest. Like all creatures, humans are created whole but not in the image of the totality of life. In fact humans are understood to be one of the most dependent of all creatures lacking a fundamental understanding of purpose, which leaves them vulnerable and ignorant. Humans through like all other creatures have a will to survive, instincts to prevail, logic discipline and imagination to adopt and prosper. Like other creatures the highest achievement of human beings is successful integration into the immense complexities of the local. Failure is to be alienated to the marginal and superficial grasping and exploiting without caution anything that merits consumption. The later is what we call Windigo. Being humans is not about mitigating heaven and hell or any other godly realms. Being a human being is about activating the gifts of truth, courage, love, respect, honesty wisdom and honour the principles which allow Anishnabeg to stay true to the human purpose of protecting the land and then human purpose of protecting the land and the human family.

Our creation stories if told one after another would take days if not weeks to recite. A lifetime is not long enough to understand the cumulative wisdom and knowledge of the stories. However, it would not take a listener long to understand that it is the land that gives shape to the spirits in physical form. Each place, each watershed, each ecosystem moulds and shaves, revealing pragmatic variations. The colour of eyes, the length of limbs, the metabolic rhythms that regulate fibre and fluid, the lay and colour of hair are traded for harmony within the ecosystem. Serendipity is tested and retested, accepted and rejected in minute detail that takes ages to preserve and to be changed again and again. It is enough to know that as human beings we are appendages of the land, made of the same earth, flowing in the same waters, breathing the same wind, warmed by the same fire.

We live in a critical age. Never before has humanity faced such great peril and never before has the human conscience been so alive in its collective recognition and understanding of the way forward. As a species we have become intimate with almost every ecosystem on the planet. And beyond that we have an empirical understanding of the beginning and end of this universe. However, our human systems embrace a self-defeating dilemma through reactive resistance or acquiescence to Solomon’s lament that everything is vanity. And while the real choices seem ultimately confusing, now is the time that we must decide the fate of generations to come.

There is no mystery that as a species we have fallen from grace. There is great suffering among humans in this world because few have privilege and many do not. Even in the so called developed nations the gap between rich and poor is widening. The indigenous wealth, in economic terms called ‘virgin wealth’, which has been rapaciously extracted from the earth without consent or concern is now long past the point where demand exceeds supply. The great European Empires who rose in five centuries from the cheapest labour in the world to indulgent affluence are now consuming their own children with debt, unable to sustain or curtail superfluous excess. While our parents and grandparents honestly believed they were creating a better world. We know now that their dreams were not sustainable. We know that.

Politicians, guided by the power of the privileged class, promise that the dream of perpetual affluence is still possible. It is not. For millions upon millions of human beings, impoverished and separated from their indigenous relationship with the land, the proof is clear, development as defined by Colonial nations of this world is merely theft and murder and when we bring it on ourselves it is suicide. To put one stone upon another without ultimate acceptance of the consequences is to kill both the meaning and spirit of our sacred relationship with the earth. Modern leaders plead with us to accept the most obsequious forms of racism, classism, sexism and human and environmental injustice as an abeyance of our own uncontrollable decline in the hope that we will choose the inevitable, a binary of privilege and poverty as the only sustainable reality. It is in this sense that Ontario promotes uranium exploration, mining and the extension of a highly subsidized nuclear energy policy. With the current Ontario leadership there is no turning back, there are no efficient alternatives, there is no preparations for the end of social an cultural consumerism, as dependency on fossil fuels becomes too expensive. For the present government in Ontario one unachievable promise replaces another.

Along side the blind faith in continued development, political leaders continue to accept the degradation of the environment as a natural law of economics. Politicians tell us that they know best. Despite their obvious allegiance to a privileged and insulated clientele, they assure the less privileged that they alone have insight into the future, a higher standard of legal and social justice and a single-mindfulness for the welfare of humanity. They at once point to the
unspoiled ‘wilderness’ as a national treasure while over seeing its spoilage through central management. Over the past two decades environmental protection legislation has not been strengthened. In fact it has been consistently compromised through a lack of funding and abridgements to legislation. What we thought we had in Ontario by way of environmental protection while discursive of quasi-judicial levels remains at best the whimsy of the political party in power. The principles of environmental protection as a dynamic discipline are for less known among Ontario leadership than the results of their latest popularity poll or the info-advertisements of some jaded pundit in the National Post. The dependency on ‘virgin wealth’ in their minds is confused with divine authority advance by colonial ideology. Continuing down this seeming relentless path of consumption and waste will draw humanity ever closer to a threshold where neither the lessons of the past or the promises of the future have any applicable meaning.

I am not a scientist but I have informed myself about the nuclear industry. Not for one moment do I believe that nuclear energy is clean or cheap. I have seen the pictures from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and read much about the devastating effects on people and the environment. I have learned that the leading industrial diseases in the United States are caused by ionizing radiation. I spent the better part of my youth listening to strategic Air Command Bomber’s take off and return with their cargos of Atomic weapons, commanded by politicians with marginally sophisticated technology and less than honourable political agendas. I understand that Canada’s ‘virgin wealth’ in yellow cake uranium has left this country virtually untraceable and found its way into the processing plants of the likes of Saddam Hussien. This is not a clean technology when millions of tons of radioactive waste from mining is deposited into lakes and ponds with no intent on the part of industry or government to mitigate the cost and damage to future generations. There is nothing clean about open pit mining that demands the burning of exorbitant amounts of fossil fuels to extract, process and transport the raw product. Conservative estimates of the costs of fossil fuels in mining uranium are ¼ of the economic output in the life of a nuclear reactor. This estimate does not include the impact of expended carbon emissions on the environment. Spent uranium following the fission process presents even greater costs and concerns. The National Academic of Science reported in February 1958 that ‘the cost of story radioactive fission products temporarily to cool them, of extracting long lived isotopes and shipping waste to disposal points for ultimate disposal will have a major influence on the economics of nuclear power.’ Fifty years later not one county using nuclear power generation has solved the problem and the cost of temporary storage continues to escalate.

Economically speaking if I were only concerned with return on my investment I would put my money on nuclear power. No other industry in Canada has had the level of environmental protection costs exempted than the nuclear industry. Besides the assurance that environmental protection will not encumber business, every loan-shark in the world knows that there is no greater profit than in an enterprise that is unable to pay off the initial loans. In the future the cost of nuclear energy will not only fuel inflation but it will also reap the highest rates of investment return. Ontario has reached a threshold where existing first generation nuclear reactors are some 15 billion dollars in debt and unable to draw down the debt any further. The present premier’s solution is to borrow more money to build an even costlier second generation in an era where private energy conservation due to rising prices will be the normative challenge of every household. You can bet that it will not be the McGuinty loan sharks. Those who will pay the cost will be working and retired, the poor and indigenous people.

I have come to understand that uranium and the military industrial complex that it feeds, is the forbidden fruit of our generation. It is the turtle with the ring of moss on its back. It is the glittery box on which Pandora speculates. My investment in the future will not be in uranium nor its allied industries. I chose the morality of Algonquin Law and I will let posterity be my judge. I have never been reconciled with Solomon’s view that all is vanity. The beauty of a frozen swamp in the middle of winter is not a self-absorbed pretension. The beauty of a rainbow, a sunset, a fungus growing in layers along a fallen tree, a world independent of human comings and goings, all in all, never less than any which may be contrived. The goal of living is not in attaining beauty but in accepting it. Desire is what blinds us to invent beauty, to invent confections for the heart and mind. And in doing so we live our lives out as caricatures on Vanity’s stage. As an Anishnabeg person I am not long our of the forest and I know that water in its natural form is beautifully clean, the wind is warm and full of song or cold and clear, the earth after a billion years still smells fresh and clean, one see will produce ten, a hundred, even a thousand fold. I know that the earth is a quiet place as though listening to itself. When it speaks it does so in an immense diversity of voices, some cautious, some cautioning, all beautifully distant but urgent to be heard. It is such a world that vanity seeks to erase.

I believe that at not other time in history have humans collectively had such a clear view of the whole frame. At once it is possible to see our beginnings and the possible futures a head of us. This perspective however will not last. As we advance further a history of over consumption and unmanageable waste the opportunities for sustainability and the perceptible choices become fewer and fewer. Social change does not come easily. The defences against colonialism have had only marginal success and more often than not have resulted in violence and counter revolution. However when we look at the natural world we can see their powerful forces with which human beings ally. Within our human nature are forces with which we can endure through the harshest challenges. Collectively, the bonds of family, clan and community are far stronger than the deceptions that divide us. In pursuit of positive social change we need to activate within ourselves the gifts endowed upon us through creation. Perception, logic, discipline, imagination, courage and insight are only a few of the powerful gifts within us. We need to activate ourselves to ask less and give more so our local communities become stronger. We need to embrace silence so when we do speak the clarity of our voice will be unmistakable.

Changing the intentions of governments can be even more difficult than effecting social change. I have no doubt that more people will have to go to prison before Ontario becomes nuclear free and we embrace a society that undertakes real sustainability. The whole basis of sustainability is local communities meeting local needs. Big government simply does not fit into this picture and neither does corporate construction of need fulfilment. Sustainability is not about turning back the clock but rather the long overdue evolution of rationalizing real human needs with real earthy processes. As a society in change Ontario will need every bit of the wealth now destined for nuclear development to effect the transitions that are required. Urban structures need to be reinvented. The meaning of labour will need to be redefined. Eco-cartography will reshape political boundaries. And most of all people will change culturally. The present energy crisis and the need for sustainable economies necessitate a renaissance of humanity but present governments resist such change because the old means of governance; repression, false promises and popularity contests are not sufficient to control populations through emergent creativity. For today’s
governments it will seem easier to deny, pretend, punish and finally abdicate responsibility. People need to take initiative on there won and they need to do so now. There is a great need to defend the earth and our relatives in creation. Stopping uranium exploitation is definitely an important action in defending the earth. The coalitions that are created are nexus of shared knowledge and mutual concern. But simply shutting down the machines, turning off the taps and extinguishing the lights is not enough to meet the challenges of an over consumptive society. We need to reinvent ourselves.

Last year when I learned that 30,000 acres of our homeland had been staked for uranium exploration with the potential for an open pit mine, my first thoughts were how to protect Algonquin rights and interests. Since then my knowledge and understanding has grown beyond parochial interests to include my non-Algonquin neighbours and a struggle that goes further than mere resistance to colonialism. However my core understanding of what is to be Anishnabeg (human being), my knowledge of the land (aki) and my acceptance of the meaning of creation still inform who I am and what I believe. Going to prison is a small price to pay for one’s integrity and even a smaller price to pay for the right to care for the earth, our mother and home to all of our relations. Sacrifice is the work that binds us with the rest of humanity who struggles to preserve their homelands, sustainable cultures and natural justice. As each day passes I believe more and more that to live free, active, intelligent, compassionate lives is our inheritance. Imprisonment is never the end of the struggle for change. It is the beginning of conviction. To be a human being is to find peace and good will taking only what you need and giving back everything.

I am humbled to be able to share my thoughts with the Citizens’ Inquiry and I commend all of you for your hard work and sacrifices bringing this forum to the people.

Robert Lovelace
April 7, 2008

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