Algonquins threaten to reoccupy Ontario uranium site

A dispute over a potential uranium mining site in eastern Ontario could "spiral out of control" if the province doesn't reach an agreement with a First Nation by month-end, the spokesman for a group of aboriginal protesters warned Friday.

A dispute over a potential uranium mining site in eastern Ontario could "spiral out of control" if the province doesn't reach an agreement with a First Nation by month-end, the spokesman for a group of aboriginal protesters warned Friday.

The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation suspended their occupation of the site near Sharbot Lake in October 2007 after reaching an agreement with the provincial government to begin mediation talks. The Algonquins say the site, about 60 kilometres north of Kingston, is on their land and they fear that uranium drilling could lead to environmental contamination.

Former Ardoch chief Robert Lovelace announced Friday that protesters would start reoccupying the site on Jan. 28, despite a court order forbidding them to do so, unless the province stops Frontenac Ventures Corp., a mining exploration company, from doing further work there.

"If no agreement is reached, we will have to resume a full-scale securing occupation of the disputed territory," Lovelace said during a news conference at the provincial legislature in Toronto.

He said Frontenac Ventures could then seek to have protesters charged with contempt of court.

"If that happens, the conflict will quickly escalate and could spiral out of control," Lovelace warned. "The potential for a tragedy similar to that which happened at Ipperwash is very real."

In that 1995 case, unarmed First Nations protesters occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park and one of them was killed by a police sniper's bullet. 

Liberals accused of 'civil indifference' to First Nations

Lovelace told CBC News on Friday that Frontenac Ventures Corp. has been building a trench at the site, suggesting that the company is stepping up work there.

In addition, he said, mediation talks with the government have been with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines — but he believes the talks would lead to more concrete action if the premier's office gets involved.

"Because the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines doesn't really have a clear policy on working with First Nations, it's going to be very difficult for them to reach the kind of agreement we're seeking," he said.

The Algonquins said they want Ontario to extend a temporary moratorium on mining exploration at the site that ends on Jan. 28.

The moratorium went into effect in October after the Algonquins had agreed to suspend the occupation.

On Friday, the Algonquins also asked the province to create a joint panel made of up aboriginals and government officials to look at the issues in dispute.

In an open letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Lovelace accused the Liberals of ignoring the recommendations of the Ipperwash inquiry, which issued a report in May 2007 saying that the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris, Ottawa and the Ontario Provincial Police all bore responsibility for events that led to protester Dudley George's death.

Lovelace said in the letter that the government has adopted a position of "civil indifference" towards First Nations despite its promise to use the report to forge a new, better relationship with aboriginal Ontarians.

The Ipperwash inquiry report concluded judicial processes such as injunctions were not appropriate or desirable when dealing with aboriginal rights and should be used only as a last resort, he added.

Dispute must be resolved through courts: mining firm

Meanwhile, Frontenac Ventures president and CEO George White told the Canadian Press that the Ardoch First Nation has no standing to object to the uranium exploration because it opted out of a larger negotiating process involving other Ontario Algonquins.

"This renegade group of Ardoch Indians, they want to take things into their own hands," White said. "If, in fact, Mr. Lovelace plans to reoccupy the property, that would be in direct contravention of a contempt of court order issued previously."

White said the Ardoch First Nation was trying to use public pressure on the government to try and halt the project instead of negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the company, which has staked approximately 400 mineral claims covering more than 8,000 hectares of land.

"By provocation and pressing and pressing and pressing the government, they think this issue may be resolved," he said. "The only way to resolve it is through the courts."

'Still optimistic' about talks: mines minister

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said the government wants to take a look at the Ardoch First Nation's proposal for a moratorium on exploration in the disputed area, but is still hoping for a negotiated resolution.

"We take very seriously our obligation to consult with aboriginal communities in relation to mining activities," Gravelle said. "We are still optimistic that we can work our way through this."

The protesters began occupying the disputed site on June 29, 2007, and did not leave until mid-October despite court injunctions granted in response to requests from the company. The injunctions ordered the Algonquins off the site and gave police the authority to arrest them.

The disputed site includes both private property and Crown land that is the subject of ongoing land claim negotiations.

With files from the Canadian Press