Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ardoch Algonquins and Activists gather Robertsville, proposed uranium mine site for two-day prayer circle

Ardoch Algonquins and Activists gather Robertsville, proposed uranium mine site for two-day prayer circle
By JENNIFER PRITCHETT, Kingston Whig-Standard, October 27, 2008.

At the crack of dawn on saturday morning, Algonquin native leader Mireille LaPointe battled the pouring rain to begin a two-day prayer circle at the site of a proposed uranium mine north of Kingston.

Over the course of the weekend, roughly 50 native and non-native people - including members of the environmental group Mining Watch -came from as far away as Sudbury and Ottawa to the rural location to pray for land they hope will never be mined for uranium.

"We wanted to connect with people in a quiet way," LaPointe told the Whig-Standard. "This is not a political action."

The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation's acting co-chief emphasized that the event wasn't a protest but rather a peaceful prayer gathering that didn't violate the court injunction handed down earlier this year to keep protesters 200 metres away from the proposed mining site.

"As far as I know, we didn't violate the injunction because we didn't come within 200 metres of any Frontenac Ventures employee at the site," La-Pointe said.

"We came to be respectful."

Protesters got themselves into hot water with police last year when they refused for months to allow employees with the prospecting firm Frontenac Ventures to go onto the site.

The occupation ended with a court injunction banning them from the site, resulting in the arrest of Bob Lovelace, a former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and a Queen's University lecturer.

He spent about three months in jail for refusing to back down and was released last May by a panel of appeal court judges.

On Saturday, two Ontario Provincial Police officers visited the site and spoke with some of the demonstrators. They made no arrests.

"They came to ensure that everyone was safe, and that's fine by me," La-Pointe said. "We didn't come here to incite anything or to cause a disturbance and we told that to the OPP. We came to pray."

Yesterday, George White of Frontenac Ventures couldn't be reached for comment.

No employees of the Oakville-based firm were seen at the Robertsville site yesterday morning when a reporter visited. There was, however, a new berm of dirt about a foot high that had been placed outside the closed front gate to the property.

While the rain poured through the day on Saturday, the group huddled under tarps as they spoke of the need to protect the natural environment and the importance of remaining positive as they continue their fight to stop the mining proposal from moving forward.

They're concerned about the environmental effects of the prospecting that's already been done at the expansive site.

Natives, with the support of many non-natives, also claim the land is theirs and that the provincial government shouldn't have given a prospecting licence to Frontenac Ventures in the first place. Under current provincial mining legislation, anyone with a prospector's licence can access someone else's land.

Demonstrators were hoping this issue would become part of the changes considered for Ontario's new Mining Act. They sent that message to government officials last summer when they held a public meeting in Kingston on the proposed changes to the legislation.

Protesters say they won't give up. Joan Kuyek, a former national coordinator of Ottawa-based Mining Watch, said it's important they don't.

"It's important that this issue doesn't go away," she said.

Kuyek drove with a current co-ordinator with Mining Watch to attend the two-day event, which ran until sunset yesterday.

"I feel very strongly that any uranium mining in this area is a stupid proposition," she said. "It makes no sense economically, socially, environmentally or culturally."

Kuyek said that events such as the pray-in raise the profile of concerns about mining and the need to be more respectful of the environment from which those resources are removed.

"You can't deny the need for those material things [that come from mines] ... but there is no respect for how much damage we do in fulfilling those needs," she said.

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