No other “Perspectives” piece that I’ve written has attracted as many reader comments as did the one last week, titled “Aboriginal unrest and responsibility”. Most of the comments were thoughtful and balanced in attitude, but there was the odd vituperative outpouring.
Allow us to share some of what we received.
This came from David Hill, a principal of the GOOD MEDICINE GROUP at www.GoodMedicine.ca:
“It’s great to see that the industry is paying attention to the concerns raised by Aboriginal peoples in regard to the environmental impacts of exploration, mining and other extraction developments.
“However, the article misses a critical element of the issue, which is the significant risks these types of developments pose to the social and cultural fabrics of Aboriginal life. For more than a decade, Aboriginal peoples have been raising the alarm over impacts such as increased drug and alcohol use, loss of connection to spiritual areas, loss of traditional foods and medicines, increased economic disparity, higher rates of crime and violence, etc. There is a growing body of evidence that clearly shows the link between major development and social and cultural consequences. These concerns have been identified clearly in cases such as the KI-Platinex case, and in the response of the BC Joint Review Panel on the Kemess North project. In both cases, the concerns were linked both to environmental AND cultural impacts.
“Industry and regulators would be well served by taking these concerns seriously, and working with Aboriginal communities to conduct comprehensive socio-cultural impact assessments as part of their development planning. This will allow for greater certainty to industry, reduced conflict and risk for government, and a healthier and stronger future for Aboriginal peoples.”
Here is a view that should be of interest to everyone, Aboriginal or not, sparked by the desire to explore for uranium in Ontario:
“Although uranium may be a ‘much-sought-after fuel metal’, the PEMBINA INSTITUTE elaborates this statement to point out that ‘nuclear power production in Canada produces approximately 85,000 highly radioactive waste fuel bundles each year along with 500,000 tonnes or more of toxic and radioactive mine tailings.’ Various studies have concluded that the nuclear life cycle is an unsustainable source of power. It leaves waste that is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
“Allowing that the province of Ontario should never have granted exploration licenses to FRONTENAC VENTURES, the fact that the ‘chances of finding a minable deposit are very slim, indeed’ is one more reason that it was irresponsible for any company to begin exploration on unceded First Nations land (or private land for that matter). ‘Exploiting [wilderness] for modern conveniences’ says it all. Convenience is not worth the environmental risk or the disrespect to First Nations.”
From another reader comes a look at the role of ONTARIO’S MINISTRY OF NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT AND MINES:
“Provincial ministries have their own policies and requirements that conflict with each other; on occasion MNDM both regulates and promotes mining of various types in Ontario. Prospecting is promoted and then often allowed to continue until the mine viability stage after much work over time and with possible conflicts along the way. If a mine were to be disapproved on the basis of risk or other competing priorities, then all that time and effort have been wasted. This is an ineffective use of resources, energy and stress on others where there is conflict.
“Most of these conflicts could be avoided if MNDM, [Ministry of Environment] and other ministries collaborated to determine the high risk or conflicting land use requirements within the province and then disallow prospecting at its first stage in those areas. It is important for [Ontario] to grow its economy by pre-planning and determining those already known areas of conflict. Then prospectors could target alternate areas. The general public can also be more effective as a workforce since disputes or competing priorities can be avoided.”
Local opinion would seem to be firmly in the Aboriginal camp when it comes to the disputed area near Sharbot Lake. Former chief Robert Lovelace has been sentenced to six months in jail and fined $25,000 on charges arising from his role in the dispute between Frontenac Ventures and the local bands. The Plevna-Ompah Pastoral Charge was reminded on the Sunday after his sentencing that this world is not man’s alone; it belongs to God.
“Somebody sits in prison right now because he refused to abandon his conviction that there is a higher law than the one we so often rely on to protect our interests. He believes there are greater interests to protect than just our own. And he’s right.”
The debate over the rights of Aboriginal peoples in eastern Ontario has now spread to western Canada. The UNION OF BRITISH COLUMBIA INDIAN CHIEFS has weighed in, supporting the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.
“It is a brutish and troubling precedent when companies use the courts to jail community members for protecting not only their Aboriginal title and rights but their basic human rights,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC. “Furthermore, when a provincial government chooses litigation rather than good-faith negotiations, it sends a clear message that corporate greed trumps human rights.”
In fairness, I must also pass along the nastiest of the comments (although it doesn’t say much for the writer):
“The days of you morons running rough-shod over peoples’ rights in this country are numbered. As far as I’m concerned, we should take all your mining equipment and dump it into one of the big holes you’ve created in this country. OH! By the way I’m white. You people are scum.”
Let me repeat: The goal of everyone Aboriginal, industry, government and private landowners must be to anticipate conflict and open a dialogue that will resolve the situation before anyone goes to jail.