Leader jailed for protecting Algonquin territory.
A storm of protest has greeted the jailing of an Algonquin leader who defended his territory against a uranium mining exploration company.
Bob Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and a negotiator in recent mediation talks with the Ontario government, is a political prisoner, said AAFN spokesman Jack LaPointe.
The provincial government failed to consult his community before licensing Frontenac Ventures's activities on unceded Algonquin territory that is currently the subject of negotiations with Ontario and Canada.
Lovelace viewed it as his duty to protect the land and refused to obey two injunctions that required him to stay away from a drilling site to which the courts had granted Frontenac Ventures "unfettered" access.
"I want to obey Canadian law but Algonquin law instructs me that I must preserve Creation," Lovelace told Judge Douglas Cunningham in a Kingston court on Feb 15. "I must follow Algonquin law."
"There can only be one law--the law of Canada as expressed in this court," said Cunningham who sentenced Lovelace, 59, an instructor at Queen's University and Sir Sandford Fleming College, to six months in jail for contempt of court. The draconian sentence included a fine of $25,000
"There's an awful lot of outrage out there, certainly from First Nations across the country," said LaPointe, who is also a negotiator for AAFN until talks broke down in early February.
Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International said the reaction from the public has been unprecedented. "We've had a flood of emails from across the country," he said. "It's not the usual thing for us to issue a press release and have people write in to ask, 'what can we do?'"
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation issued a statement calling on Ontario to negotiate a settlement to the dispute rather than use the courts to delay a political solution.
"First Nation people are being criminalized for practising constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights - our way of life on the land," said Grand Chief Stan Beardy.
"These extreme positions by Ontario to support court proceedings rather than negotiating settlements could seriously jeopardize new meaningful relationships not only in Algonquin territory, but across the province."
A similar dispute between a mining exploration company and a First Nation has resulted in leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, 600 km north of Thunder Bay, being found guilty of contempt in December. They are to be sentenced in April.
"What the government of Ontario and general public need to realize is that our people have a sacred responsibility to the land. It's not that we operate outside of Canadian law, however the laws of our lands come first," Beardy said.
Christian Peacemaker Teams issued a statement lamenting the unjust actions of Judge Cunningham and the Ontario government. "We fear that the actions of the court and the government are leading this province down the road of confrontation that will inevitably lead to more suffering, injustice and bloodshed for Aboriginal peoples."
Amnesty International pointed out that Canadian courts have clearly established that whenever the rights of indigenous peoples may be affected, governments have a legal duty to ensure that there must always be meaningful consultation to identify and accommodate Indigenous concerns.
"The situation defies justice," said Benjamin. "Indigenous leaders and their supporters are facing stiff punishments for doing what they feel is necessary to protect rights that may one day be upheld in court or in the land claims process. Meanwhile the provincial government is ignoring its own legal obligations without any accountability."
The dispute began last June when both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities north of Kingston discovered thousands of acres--both crown land and private properties--were being staked by Frontenac Ventures under the free entry provisions of the Ontario Mining Act. But trees were cut and blasting began before any prior consultation of local Algonquins by the Ontario government despite the fact that the lands are part of their traditional territory and are also the subject of ongoing treaty negotiations between the Algonquins and Canada and Ontario.
Leaders of AAFN and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation occupied a site off Highway 509 near Sharbot Lake, about 60 miles north of Kingston, where Frontenac was preparing to conduct drilling tests.
The lands are part of 8.9 million acres within the watersheds of the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, including the city of Ottawa, that were never surrendered. Treaty negotiations are ongoing, involving 10 Algonquin communities, only one of which--the Algonquins of Golden Lake or Pikwakanagan - has reserve status.
The Algonquins said they never objected to other activities on their land but uranium mining is a threat to the environment.
Frontenac sued the two First Nations for $77 million and filed contempt charges. The couirt actions were put on hold and the occupation was lifted in October when the province entered into mediated talks with the two First Nations. But the talks collapsed in early February.
Kathy Nosich, spokesperson for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, said the mediation process, funded by Ontario, is evidence that the province was consulting. She declined to say why the talks ended. The reason, according to a report posted by Lovelace at http://www.aafna.ca/Final_negot.html, was that Ontario's negotiator Cam Clark went back on an undertaking that no drilling was a possible outcome of the talks.
Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin, was sentenced to six months in jail at the same time as Lovelace. But her sentence was not carried out after she agreed to obey a court injunction. She has been ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and the AAFN has been fined $10,000.
Honorary Chief Harold Perry also gave the court the required undertaking. "I want to be with Bob" he said, "but my community does not want me to do this." Perry, 78, has heart problems and Sherman is a single parent. Shabot Obaadjiwan Chief Doreen Davis and Elder Earl Bedore also agreed to obey the injunction. They are to be sentenced March 18.
BY KATE HARRIES
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2008|
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